Progress for Some, Hopelessness for Many


A person in the United States can live with AIDS for decades using a drug cocktail that effectively suppresses the virus that once meant almost certain death. But the same person, if they lived in sub-Saharan Africa, probably would not stand a chance.

Today is the 25th anniversary of first reported cases of AIDS. Nearly 1 million Americans and 40 million people around the world are living with the disease, according to the U.N. report on AIDS.

When the antiviral drug cocktail was unveiled in 1996, there was hope for those who could afford the medication. People got out of bed and began living their lives again. But AIDS continues to be a problem, and 40,000 new infections occur in America each year.

"It isn't an immediate death sentence," Dr. Anthony Fauci, immunologist and director of the Infectious Diseases Institute at the National Institute of Health, told "Good Morning America Weekend Edition." "The bad news is that … people think it's not a threat. But the drugs, the therapies that are available, they have changed this illness. People who get the drugs have a very good chance of living a very normal life for a very long time."

Every Day Is a Struggle

As a little girl, Hydeia Broadbent touched the world when she talked publicly about her battle with the AIDS virus. She became a child activist and trumpeted her cause on virtually every media outlet.

Broadbent contracted the disease through her biological mother, a drug-abuser. Doctors told her adoptive parents that she would not live past the age of five when she was diagnosed with AIDS at age three. Today, she is 21, a college student and has a good life, but it is not easy.

"I want people to know is that living with AIDS, every day is a struggle," she said. "You don't have a day off -- whether it's dealing with symptoms, or dealing with medications or how you're going to pay for medications. But you can't get stressed about it, because stress makes your symptoms worse. Still you have to try to live positive so you can be healthy. And that's all anyone with AIDS is trying to do."

Despite the progress, especially in affluent countries, AIDS continues to be a great divider between the haves and the have-nots; the rich and the poor. AIDS has infected people of every race, religion, age and sexual orientation.

Since it first appeared in five young homosexual men living in Los Angeles who contracted an unusual form of pneumonia because of their ravaged immune systems, half a million people have died in the United States and 25 million people have died worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Last year alone, AIDS claimed the lives of 2.8 to 3.6 million people, over half a million of whom were children.

At first, the disease was a mystery considered the "gay plague." Its first technical name was GRID or gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome.

An Unimaginable Epidemic

"We never imagined that we were on the cusp of an epidemic, especially one of this proportion," said Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who treated the first AIDS patients.

The people who contracted the illness literally wasted away. They lost weight, developed lesions and many died a painful, lonely death.

"When I started treating AIDS patients, literally 100 percent of my patients died," said Fauci. "That was hard. We were the miracle workers. If you came to the NIH you got better. That's why we were there. But that wasn't the case back then. In 1981, no one got better."

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