Exploring Human Potential

World AIDS Day 2009: How Far Have We Come?

Mike Magee

Tuesday, December 1st was World AIDS Day, and the big news came out of South Africa. Current President Jacob Zuma, determined to pull the country out of the medical dark ages, announced that HIV pregnant women would now receive anti-retroviral therapy. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki’s policies and those of then health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (who recommended beetroot and garlic for the disease) are felt to have been responsible for the deaths of 35,000 babies between 2000 and 2005 and the premature deaths of 330,000 adults.1,2

Across the developing world access and early consistent tratment is becoming more the rule than the exeption. And this is reason for hope. But lest we consider the job done, consisder the results of a recent survey conducted by our own National AIDS Fund on perceptions to the disease. As Kandy Ferree, president of the organization states, “Although we have come a long way in the fight against HIV and AIDS, there are more than a million Americans who are currently living with HIV and an estimated 640,000 people with HIV who, for a myriad of reasons, are either undiagnosed, not in medical care or not receiving HIV treatment.” 3

Survey results show that nearly two thirds of health care professionals view substance abuse issues and financial distress as reasons why people living with HIV were not receiving HIV care or treatment. The patients themselves say fear and stigma remain well entrenched in our nation, and lack of knowledge and support negatively impact the effort. Nearly three quarters of those diagnosed with HIV and not under medical care say fear of HIV medication side effects is the number one reason they were not under care or on treatment. 66% do not seek treatment because they did not feel sick. And finally, 60% hesitate to come forward because they feel that they would be stigmatized and placed at risk.3

Undeniably we are in a better place total with HIV/AIDS then we were decades ago. Both science and compassion are moving in the right direction. But there is far more that needs to be done if we are to be able to report continued progress when the next World AIDS Day rolls around.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


1. Dugger CW. Breaking with past, South Africa issues broad AIDS policy. NYT. 12/2/09. A6
2. Childress S. Zuma, reversing course, expands HIV treatment. WSJ. 12/2/09. A14.
3. National AIDS Fund. World AIDS Day Marks New Collaboration.

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