Apathy Over AIDS Could Prove Deadly

"What is different is the nature of infection engaging the immune system and thereby interfering with, or indeed using, the innate immune responses to prevent natural immunity and to propagate itself."

Still a Global Problem

Health experts emphasize that AIDS is still the leading cause of death in Africa and say that even if global rates of HIV infection are leveling off, there are still millions getting infected each year, and millions more who don't receive the medication they need.

"To me it just means I need to change all the power-point slides with the global numbers," says Dr. John Bartlett, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"The mission and the challenges in terms of prevention efforts and access to care are not changed because we have so far to go by either calculation. It's like hearing the national debt is 20 percent less. So what?"

Dr. Robert Schooley, head of the division of infectious diseases at the University of California at San Diego, agrees.

"The fact is that we are millions of patients away from reaching all of those who can benefit from a therapy that works quite well for a fatal disease that kills people in the primes of their lives," he says.

Additionally, Schooley explains that HIV can co-exist with other infections, increasing the prevalence of secondary diseases such as leishmaniasis, which results in chronic skin ulcers and swelling of the spleen and liver, and Chagas' disease, which can damage the nervous system, digestive system and the heart.

"HIV is increasingly becoming the global driver for tuberculosis. As HIV increasingly overlaps leishmaniasis and Chagas' disease, these illnesses that many thought were on the way out will resurge," says Schooley.

Even in the United States, where rates of HIV infection are lower than rates in Africa, experts say that the disease is not disappearing anytime soon.

"The CDC failed, for the first time in over a decade, to meet its stated goal of reducing HIV infections in the U.S. to 40,000 per year," says B.R. Simon Rosser, professor and director of the HIV/STI Intervention and Prevention Studies Program at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

He says that those with AIDS apathy, who no longer consider AIDS a real problem or who don't believe that an HIV is a threat to your health, should think again.

"HIV is a major killer in its own right, and it would be a mistake to declare the epidemic over when most who need therapy are not getting it and when there is no effective vaccine," Schooley says.

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