For the first time, we see the possibility of an AIDS-free generation.
On December first, we observe World AIDS Day, to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. But this year, even as we begin the fourth decade of the AIDS pandemic, for the first time, hope is taking the place of despair among those who live with the disease: its victims, their loved ones, the medical professionals who treat them, and those who fight this killer through research, prevention, intervention and information programs. Because for the first time, we see the possibility of an AIDS-free generation.
In 1981, HIV/AIDS was first identified as a virus that kills its victims by undermining their immune systems until their bodies can no longer fight back. Thirty years ago, we knew nothing about the disease or what causes it. Back then, the life expectancy of a person diagnosed with AIDS was about two years.
Since then, we have learned a great deal about the Human Immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. We learned how it spreads through populations. We learned how it hides from the body’s immune system. We learned how it kills.
So we developed strategies to prevent it from spreading, and we developed medications that keep the virus in check so that today, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. And most of all, we learned that prevention is the key to achieving an AIDS-free generation, one where no children are born with the virus; where children have only a very low chance of becoming infected with the virus as they grow into adulthood; and that if they do contract HIV, they will never develop AIDS, or pass the virus to others, because they will have access to effective treatment.
HIV/AIDS is a global problem that requires a global effort to defeat it. If we work together, the vision of an AIDS-free future is not only possible, but probable.
As President Barack Obama has said, “We can beat this disease. We can win this fight. We just have to keep at it, today, tomorrow, and every day until we get to zero. ... We’ve come so far and we’ve saved so many lives, we might as well finish the fight.”