Wednesday, June 22, 2011

AIDS: From a new disease to a leading killer

In the span of just three decades, AIDS went from a new and rare disease to the fourth leading cause of death in the world. On the 30th anniversary of the epidemic, it’s worth taking stock of the past, present and future of a disease that seems here to stay.

The complexity of the virus that causes AIDS pales in comparison to the social and cultural complexities still surrounding it, says James Curran, dean of Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “It makes it difficult to understand why everyone isn’t tested, why everyone isn’t treated, why everyone doesn’t have access to health care,” he says.

“In every society it’s difficult to talk about sex, and in every community it’s difficult to talk about sex,” he adds. “It’s not so difficult in many churches, because they just don’t do it.”

Many HIV-infected people, both alive and dead, have made a huge difference in society’s perception of the disease, Curran says. “They’ve become role models for others in how to live their lives openly with a fatal infection that scares the hell out of people. That includes people like Larry Kramer, Magic Johnson, Ryan White, and the supporters of people who are HIV-infected like Elton John, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor.”

Click here to see the distribution of HIV/AIDS cases in the United States today.

The search for a vaccine and better treatments continues. Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of the virus responsible for AIDS, recently spoke at Emory on some of the most promising areas of the ongoing research. You can watch her talk, in the video below. Barré-Sinoussi is director of the retroviral infections control unit at the Pasteur Institute.

Ryan White: A leader forged by AIDS
HIV/AIDS at 30

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