Glimmers of hope mingled with harsh realities as the 12th World AIDS Conference concluded last week in Geneva, Switzerland.
Scientists continue to develop new treatments and look for better ones in battling this deadly epidemic, caused by a virus that destroys the immune system. They must continue to do all they can to overcome it and to make treatments affordable.Perhaps the most somber fact coming out of the conference is that the vast majority of the 34 million people infected with the AIDS virus couldn't pay for sustained treatments even if they were available to them.
It can cost around $15,000 to provide the drugs to treat one person a year, clearly an amount far out of the range of those living in Third World countries.
In the United States the news is better as reports show a considerable drop in hospitalization and mortality rates between 1994 and 1997. That is countered, however, by studies that show new strains of the AIDS virus are immune to some of the basic treatments.
As one doctor aptly noted, that fact should serve as a wake-up call for those foolish to think they can continue high-risk practices and then have treatments take care of the problem if they become infected. If they in fact do contract one of the new drug-resistant strains it will be like getting AIDS in the early `80s before there were were any adequate treatments.
Speaker after speaker stated that the best way to deal with AIDS is to focus on the strategy of prevention. As far as risk goes, those who do not engage in promiscuous sex or inject themselves with drugs are far less likely to contract the AIDS virus than those who do those things. Probability of contraction plummets when those factors are not present.
The insidious disease may not be curable now, but it is preventable through reducing high-risk behaviors.
Emphasizing prevention is the main thrust of the Utah Aids Foundation. Because of improved treatment, too many Utahns and others believe they don't have to worry about AIDS. In reality, it remains a terrible affliction. Every day, 16,000 people in the world are infected with the AIDS virus. Some 2,500 people in Utah have tested positive for HIV. A significant number of those have developed AIDS and died. Another estimated 2,000 have HIV but have not been tested. Thus far this year alone, 65 new cases of HIV have been reported in Utah.
Victims of AIDS anywhere deserve the best medical care available, along with support and compassion. Government and medical efforts to find and make affordable effective treatments must be combined with responsible personal lifestyles to thwart a deadly plague that claims far too many lives in Utah and throughout the world.