by Aldona Martinka

IRMA is drawing the focus to the thirtieth anniversary of HIV/AIDS with a short series on AIDS history. It will explore where we began, where we are now, and where we are going as we continue to battle this disease with hope and determination. This is part four of five.

People living with HIV and AIDS in the United States today are in a position that was completely unforeseeable to those living with the disease in the eighties. Today a positive diagnosis is far from a death sentence to most Americans, and there are daily pills one can take that will subdue the virus for decades if the routine is followed closely. People in their fifties, many of whom were diagnosed in those terrifying early years, will soon most likely make up the majority of people living with AIDS in the US. New prevention technologies have moved from condoms to a plethora of exciting possibilities such as topical microbicides and treatment as prevention. AIDS stigma, while still a problem in many instances, is so much less ignorant than what it was even 20 years ago.

As the face of AIDS in the US changes, life for those living with the disease and their loved ones has become much more bearable. But with these positive changes come a whole host of new problems that no one could have foreseen a quarter of a century ago.

The illnesses which most commonly affect AIDS patients, for instance, have shifted from the opportunistic cancers and infections which killed so many early victims, to heart conditions, neurological disorders, and other illnesses typical of the elderly. Pre-mature aging has become the more likely scenario today as patients in their fifties and above face problems most often experienced by those twenty to thirty years older than them.

Another new issue facing people with AIDS that no one could foresee thirty years ago is the criminalization of those with the virus. There are far too many instances of scared and ignorant people accusing past and current sexual partners of being criminals for having sex while being HIV positive. For an excellent account of criminalization of the HIV/AIDS community read Sean Strub’s blog post at Poz Magazine.

As we adapt to AIDS, in America and worldwide, we will have to be resourceful, understanding, and hopeful to face whatever the virus will throw our way next. As a country and a world united, we can try to end AIDS before another 30 years has passed.

[If an item is not written by an IRMA member, it should not be construed that IRMA has taken a position on the article’s content, whether in support or in opposition.]