World AIDS Day serves as a focus for a constant struggleYesterday was the 11th celebration of World AIDS Day, when groups of scientists, activists and government officials took a moment to evaluate our success as an international community in combating the devastating effects of the AIDS virus. And once again, unfortunately, the news is not good.
On Wednesday, the United Nations announced that over 11 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, with 95 percent of those orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. The effect of AIDS in these countries, which still lack adequate containment mechanisms, let alone treatment, is a daily terror. The region, which makes up less than five percent of the world's population, has been the home of more than half of the world's documented AIDS cases.
However, this is only the most blatant example of what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called a "conspiracy of silence." In the streets of the United States and Europe as much as the cities of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, AIDS continues to be an epidemic.
The little we know is clear enough: HIV, a virus transmitted by bodily fluids, is contracted most often through unprotected sexual contact. It lies dormant within the body for anywhere from six months to, in a few cases, decades, and then appears to destroy the immune system. Drug treatment can delay the effects, but in the end, HIV weakens the immune system to the point where an opportunistic infection, something the body normally could fight easily, runs uncontrolled and causes death.
And yet, despite this information, AIDS remains a silent conspiracy. In dorm rooms, apartments and throughout the world, people who don't know they have HIV transmit the virus to others: heterosexual, homosexual, at every age and of every race or ethnicity. The highest rate of infection is among young adult heterosexual females, 25 to 44, and the rates in other communities, though slowing, are still increasing.
Furthermore, although the disease continues to spread, AIDS does not seem to be as prevalent a danger in the minds of people on campus as it once was. The suffering caused by this disease is all the more tragic because it is preventable.
It was encouraging to see red ribbons around campus on Wednesday, and the events held yesterday and today--an art exhibit and a number of discussions--increase the visibility of AIDS and HIV prevention on campus. Yet we cannot pin our efforts to one day, our thoughts on AIDS to one evening. UHS has confidential as well as anonymous HIV testing, and numerous groups all over campus have condoms available. AIDS prevention must be on our minds throughout the year.
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