THE FINAL BATTLE IN THE WAR AGAINST HIV AND AIDS
“It is by killing individual cells in the body’s all-important immune system that the AIDS virus wreaks its terrible havoc…(and) leaves the body defenseless against all sorts of diseases that are.” This proclamation was made by Michael Lemonick in his article, “The Killers all Around” written for the September, 1994 issue of Time. An opportunity to discuss the pervasive realities of the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is as welcoming an undertaking as the prospect of creating a vaccine that would eradicate the viral reservoirs of latent HIV virus. The erosion of social institutions which would result in societal decay is one of the reasons that the discovery of a vaccine that would eradicate HIV and AIDS is critical. The second reason is that of the continual management of the viral infection as a chronic illness which is tantamount to straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.
Since the first cases of HIV and AIDS appeared in the late 1970’s, the disease has emerged as a pandemic that affects the lives of approximately thirty-six million people worldwide that currently live with the disease. Families will find that half of their income will be needed to pay for their own or a loved one’s treatment and care. Also the world is faced with the issues prevalent in providing care to a growing number of orphans that have lost a parent or parents to the disease. In light of this reality, HIV and AIDS destroy human capital that economic infrastructures rely upon to supply a knowledgeable and skilled workforce that brings forth the ideas and implementation of technology and societal change that promote fiscal and physical well being to entire nations. The economies of developing countries may very well collapse, while developed countries may experience economic malaise under the strain of widespread, chronic illness and death. Governments may experience a decrease in the availability of public funds utilized to meet the needs of its citizenry when their nation’s tax base is decreased if younger citizens fall prey to this disease. Also the existence of poverty in developed as well as developing countries interferes with access to and the effectiveness of treatment. These are some of the larger systemic issues that make finding a cure for HIV and AIDS so very important.
Another factor that supports the importance of finding and perfecting a vaccine for HIV and AIDS is Mr. Lemonick’s statements. I view his remarks as a revelation of the world’s lament: the nature of viruses makes HIV a stealth killer and one that is difficult to manage as a chronic condition. The virus exposes a weakened immune system to bacterial infections such as tuberculosis. The bacteria responsible for various infections suffered by individuals with HIV and AIDS can reinvent themselves and render many anti-biotic treatments useless. The human immunodeficiency virus can also produce highly virulent strains of the virus that are resistant to current treatment modalities in addition to creating reservoirs of latent virus. Researchers are consistently developing new drugs to combat the ever changing genetics of HIV. The physical, emotional, psychological and financial costs are enormous for medical science and HIV and AIDS patients to keep up with microbes that can mutate as often as every twenty minutes. Stigma around HIV infection and AIDS, the fear of impending sickness and probable early death abound; and treatments such as Fuzeon, a more recent drug therapy, would cost each patient approximately $20,000 per year.
The scientific and social realities we will endure in the face of HIV and AIDS are forecast by the World Health Organization to become increasingly difficult if HIV and AIDS continue to be managed as a chronic illness. The ramifications of this infectious disease are far reaching. With the loss of human vitality and life, HIV and AIDS run the risk of unraveling the threads of societal patchwork patterns that are intricately sown together to provide equilibrium to mankind’s daily existence. The systemic issues surrounding the prevalence of this disease should compel society and the scientific community, in particular, to rise to opportunities to invest its time, knowledge and spirit of collaboration to win the last battle in the fight against HIV and AIDS.