The Impact of an Epidemic

By Naomi Petrovsky


AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a disease that affects different people in different ways, and dates back at least twenty seven years. It has ravaged through the world, killing over twenty two million people (until). As more people die each day, the significance of finding a cure for AIDS increases. It leaves so many areas in poverty and in need, especially Africa, and it is orphaning innumerable children. It is urgent for mankind to do more to put a stop to the AIDS rampage and prevent a disastrous impact on the future of our world. As each day goes by, so many people lose their lives to AIDS as it sweeps across the whole world and it is urgent for people to do more to put a stop to it. Because of the AIDS epidemic, the ongoing debate about whether or not there is enough being done becomes more serious and is brought up more then ever before. Attempts to combat AIDS on a global scale seem to have failed. Despite increased awareness, there is an insignificant difference in the success of AIDS prevention in current days as opposed to a decade ago. Although the U.S. government plans to develop a cure for AIDS by 2010, that seems unlikely since a progress thus far has been slow. People around the world must understand that it has been ongoing for so long and without doing something to cure AIDS now, it will have an increasingly disastrous impact on the future of our world. There are different theories about the origins of AIDS. The most widely accepted theory is that AIDS was transferred from monkeys who had carried the syndrome since prehistoric times. AIDS was not fatal to the primates. By consuming primate meat and exposure to the blood and saliva, humans acquired the virus that started the furious epidemic.

The first publicly recognized and documented case of HIV acquisition by a human was in January 1981, when AIDS was known as GRID --gay related immune deficiency, or the “gay cancer”. GRID got its name because AIDS was originally noticed in the gay community, and for a long time it was erroneously believed that the disease was caused by homosexual activities. When gay men found out about GRID, they formed a group called GMHC, also known as the Gay Men's Health Crisis, “It is a non-profit organization committed to national leadership in the fight against AIDS” 1 This group’s goal was to educate the public about the impact of the disease, helping its victims of the disease and work to improve their health and overall wellbeing. By educating the people, the number of men with AIDS would sufficiently go down. GMHC deals with AIDS-related discrimination towards homosexuality for both men and women. It works to make sure the cure for AIDS is still a top priority of the world, too. In 1982, a man named Rodger McFarlane volunteered to have his house be the GMHC headquarters and installed an answering machine. On the first night, 100 callers called in leaving messages about their problems and it instantly became the first AIDS hotline. The first cases of GRID were reported by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) as a strange type of cancer that had never occurred before. People became hopeful because although cancer was one of the dreaded diseases in the United States, having Kaposi's Sarcoma, which is a virus symptomatic of AIDS, was even worse.

“For some of the men who had the mysterious new illness, calling it ‘cancer’ was

“Gay Men’s Health Crisis”

a form of hope”. 2 As time passed, AIDS became more apparent among people who were “drug users, recent Haitian immigrants and hemophiliacs regardless of sexual persuasion”, so GRID was changed to AIDS (aidsarchive). Over time, it also became obviously clear that AIDS could be passed by any sexual activity, and not just homosexual behavior. “AIDS is caused by a virus called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)”. 3 Once infected with HIV, the body tries to fight the infection. It will make antibodies which are special molecules to fight HIV. Having HIV is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but do not get sick for years. HIV is different than AIDS positive people because people with AIDS get sick right away. As HIV progresses, it slowly wears down the immune system and develops into AIDS. The “gay disease” was going unacknowledged by politicians for a long time. Then, Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican finally acknowledged it. In April1987, President Ronald Reagan made a historic and passionate speech about ignorance towards AIDS. When he spoke at the American Foundation for AIDS Research honorary dinner, he said that he would spend $766 million towards developing a greater tolerance and understanding of AIDS for people and called it the "public health enemy No. 1". He made this speech after pleas from long-time friend and actress Elizabeth Taylor begging him to address this topic after the tragic death of their mutual friend, Rock Hudson, from AIDS. Reagan agreed to speak about AIDS, despite the fact that two years earlier he supported the expulsion of AIDS positive students from the school system. He did not want to
2 3

Joe Wright, “Remembering the Early Days of 'Gay Cancer'” “What Does AIDS Mean?”

“anger his allies on the Christian right when it came to the ‘gay plague’”.4 He did not focus on AIDS throughout most of his presidency until that dinner in 1987. After that, Reagan began getting the science and “public policy” of AIDS. By that time, the syndrome had already taken almost 20,000 lives in America5. In 1988, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop decided that a public education campaign would be necessary to explain AIDS to the public. In this campaign, he sent a brochure clearly explaining all about AIDS to avoid discrimination and to have people understand more about the disease. The first public example of combatting AIDS discrimination happened in August 1986 when “the Federal Government accused an employer of illegal discrimination against a person with AIDS. A hospital had dismissed a nurse and refused to offer him an alternative job. This was seen as a violation of his civil rights.”6 Then, in 1990, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) printed "Epidemic of Fear", a report based on the 260 (out of 600) “legal and advocacy organizations” that responded to the ACLU AIDS discrimination questionnaires. Those organizations who replied said that they received around 13,000 complaints of HIV-related discrimination from 1983 to 19887. Although Koop attempted to alert the country, the people became most informed when media stars became victims of AIDS. Ryan White was one of those people, and became a national spokesperson for AIDS victims when he was infected with AIDS after a contaminated blood treatment and was expelled from school. White’s message was that this disease did not affect other people via everyday contact. He also tried to show people that AIDS was not a gay cancer because he, among many other people affected by this

4 5

“Reagan and Bush in the Age of AIDS.” “Yalta of AIDS” 6 Annabel Kanabus and Jenni Fredriksson, “History of AIDS up to 1986” 7 Peter Plumley, “An Actuarial Analysis of the AIDS Epidemic in the U.S.”

syndrome, was heterosexual8. Shortly after, George H.W. Bush signed the United States' first major AIDS legislation: the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The bill promised to donate $881 million to fund the sixteen cities hardest hit by the epidemic. The congress only gave $350 million. Along with CARE, President Bush also signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 which was used to protect people with HIV/AIDS from discrimination9. From then on, foundations have been formed and scientists have determined that AIDS is “a severe immunological disorder caused by the retrovirus HIV, resulting in a defect in cell-mediated immune response that is manifested by increased sensitivity to opportunistic infections and to certain rare cancers”10 AIDS is a disease that affects the entire world, but in Africa, the AIDS epidemic has affected more people then in any other region in the world. The most discouraging thing about this is that since Africa is so poor, the people are dependent on other countries support to help them get medicine and other aid. It has taken the lives of around 1.6 million people and left 1.1 million children orphaned thus far. The number of deaths is likely to keep growing throughout Africa. However, some places like Zimbabwe seems to have stabilized the spread of AIDS. Since there are territories in Africa less affected by AIDS such as Somalia or Senegal where the percent of people living with AIDS is less than 1% of the adult population, there is hope of finding a cure sooner. Unfortunately, the growth of AIDS cases among pregnant women in Cameroon has doubled to over 11% for women between twenty to twenty four years old causing the next generations to have more AIDS infected people11. Cameroon’s adult age expectancy

8 9

“Ryan’s Story” Alexander Hawes, “Understanding The Americans With Disabilities Act: Introduction” 10 “AIDS” 11 Gemma Spink, “Women, HIV and AIDS”

rate has dropped from 62 years to a mere 47 in the past decade alone12. The increasing number of people living with AIDS will severely affect many areas of the countries’ economic and social standings. It may cause the weakening of the healthcare system and also pose a problem of how to handle such a huge orphan population. When family members die, they are often a breadwinner, and his death could leave the rest of the family in poverty. The relatives or neighbors sometimes end up taking care of the deceased’s family members after their death, which puts an additional burden on them and drives their family into deeper poverty. Schools are also affected because once AIDS hits a child, they often stop going to school even though school is vital for every person. Since AIDS has become such a problem and has even begun affecting the education of children, doctors have started making bold statements about the future. Many doctors and researchers have promised worldwide healthcare by 2010. This seems strange because the only thing that has changed between the times when AIDS was reported to now was that new drugs have been created to prolong the life of an AIDS victim. Even though there are drugs that help the victims live longer, the virus still finds a way to kill the person and adapt to these strong medicines. These medicines, also called protease inhibitors, are not easy to get either and can cost more then one thousand dollars a year. People living with AIDS don’t always have enough money to afford the drugs especially those in other, poorer areas such as sub-Saharan Africa where the percentage of people infected with the AIDS epidemic is the highest in the world13. Scientists have been working to save people with new research that has been going on for more then thirteen

12 13

“HIV and AIDS in Africa” Frank Ferro, “Millions in Africa to benefit from Aids drugs”

years and has cost more then ten billion dollars to fund. Now researchers have decided to test these drugs on animals. This is strange because this is not a safe study and not necessarily ethical or necessary. In 1988, scientists stated, "To date, adequate animal models have not been developed for HIV-related research. Chimpanzees for example, can be infected with HIV, but have not developed AIDS. The lack of appropriate animal models for HIV research makes the application of animal research to humans uncertain."14 So there doesn’t seem to be a point to what scientists are doing to “help” AIDS research. Along with unnecessary animal testing, it doesn’t look like many countries that said would help the disease are actually helping as much as they said they would. Many wealthy countries have promised to spend 200 million dollars toward fighting this epidemic, but they are not fulfilling their obligations, even though AIDS takes the lives of more then 2.8 million lives a year of which more than half a million are children15. For now, one thing people can do is to educate people about AIDS/HIV. By knowing information, there would be more awareness about how to avoid getting the virus and less discrimination and myths towards people living with it. This isn’t the only help that can be offered. Around the world, people have been creating foundations and campaigns to raise money and aid scientists for research. There are multiple different walks that are going on and even a National AIDS awareness day on December 1st. Even if they are not perfectly functional and successful yet, doctors have come up with medicine that allows people with AIDS to live for many years. People have also contacted the media and rose awareness through things like (RED) ™ which makes clothes, shoes, has an annual


C. Ray Greek, Jean Swingle Greek, Jane Goodall, “Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals” 15 Michael Swigert, “Africa Action Welcomes New Statistics on Global AIDS Pandemic”

concert to raise money and so much more. In times like these, we ask our selves what’s really important. Is it health? Or family? Either way we all try to stay alive, but when a deadly disease such as AIDS sweeps through the world, that’s when we ask our selves: are we really doing enough? Awareness through media has helped AIDS become more of a concern to people as have the many foundations that have been created. Drugs for AIDS have also improved the lives of many people. Anti-HIV-or antiretroviral-medications can only slow the progression of HIV or control the reproduction of the virus-not cure it completely. Individuals taking these medications can still spread HIV to others. When three or more medications are combined, it is known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). The three medications are taken in a daily regimen, referred to as a “cocktail”. Anti-HIV medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fall into four categories, NNRTI, NRTI, PI, and Fusion. NNRTI, or Nonnucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors, block the action of reverse transcriptase, which is a protein that helps HIV reproduce. Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTI) take the place of building blocks in the reproduction of the HIV virus and stall it. PI, or Protease Inhibitors, blocks the protein known as protease, which helps in the reproduction of the virus16. And finally, Fusion Inhibitors, the newest medication for HIV, completely blocks the virus from entering other cells in the body. A new treatment called Fusion Inhibitors like enfuvirtide block HIV access into cells. There are so many drugs to help treat AIDS, but the most often prescribed and also the very first FDA-approved drug is AzidoThymidine also known as AZT17. AZT reduces danger of infection and lessens many side

16 17

“AIDS and HIV Infection” “HIV/AIDS: types of Antiretroviral drugs”

effects of AIDS such as preventing pregnant women with HIV from passing it to their children. Even with all these medical advancements, the real problem remains: how to get these treatments to the people who need them, and how to afford the effort. And the stories are not scientific, but very personal. Like the following, from AIDS-ravaged Africa: “My sister is six years old. There are no grown-ups living with us. I need a bathroom tap and clothes and shoes. And water also, inside the house. But especially, somebody to tuck me and my sister in at night-time.”18 This is a realistic life for many orphans abandoned because of AIDS. It is terrifying to realize that this child is only thirteen and had nothing to do with getting this disease other then it being passed down from his mother. AIDS among children is growing rapidly every year and has gone totally out of control. More than fifteen million children have been tested positive with AIDS, twelve million of these children live in sub Saharan Africa, and ten million of these innocent children have lost at least one relative to this unstoppable disease that overrules any other disease in many countries. These children are so affected from living with their AIDS-positive parents and it impacts their lives in many ways. First of all, it is a huge blow to their emotional state. Before the death of their family member, they wonder what their new life will be, and many fall into a depression. Signs of anxiety and anger are more prominent between children with family who have AIDS according to a study in Uganda. According to the same Uganda study, “12% of AIDS orphans affirmed that they wished they were dead, compared to 3% of other children interviewed”.19 After a family member dies, they are

18 19

Apiwe, “AIDS Orphans.” “AIDS orphans”

forced to conform to a new reality of what their life has become and will be forever. Children are separated from their siblings more then half the time, become too disturbed to do well in school and even start missing school. Many times, children cannot continue the education because their caregivers cannot afford its cost20. After the death, an orphaned child must take care of the responsibilities of their late parents. In Africa, this happens more than anywhere else but in Kenya the fewest children are going to school than in any other country. This is almost only caused by the AIDS epidemic devastating their parents and families. When their parents die of AIDS, not only do these children miss out on the values that education brings, they also miss out on what their parents could have taught them, while they, the next generation, continue themselves to live with the AIDS virus. Fortunately, campaigns such as Stop AIDS in Children, Unite for Children, and UNICEF help these innocent children survive in the world. Many communities make sure that these children own the property and do not fall into the growing number of children forced into child labor. Countries around the world are raising money to build schools in the AIDS-devastated areas and provide education that would never be possible otherwise. For instance, in Botswana, a National Orphan Program was created in April 1999 to react to the immediate needs of orphaned children. This program provided support from the government, school uniforms and supplies and food every month. There are also Orphan Trust enabling social workers and other government paid workers visit the children and make sure they are safe and their needs are met. The Kgaitsadi Society also takes care of the AIDS orphans and provides them with education. In June 2005, President of Malawi


“AIDS orphans”

Bingu wa Mutharika began The National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children that allows children to have access to education, sanitation and care. Even though these people are helping the AIDS victims survive, it is necessary for more campaigns to be made and have more help towards this problem. These children are our future and it is necessary for them to have what it takes to make our world powerful and thriving. This deadly virus takes with it so many people, leaving some orphaned and alone. It is such a fast growing disease that it has become the deadliest killer in Africa and the fourth deadliest in the world21. We see reports of AIDS and the effects is has on our society, yet how can we just sit back and watch this devastating disease strive. Are we really doing enough for all the people that have been hurt, emotionally and physically, by AIDS? People raise money, start campaigns and research more and more about it but how can there be enough being done if we still don’t have enough support and no cure even though it is such a fast growing disease. How long can people wait for there to be an actual cure? Although it is urgent for doctors and researchers to find a cure, they still don’t know what to do. One doctor even stated that "This virus is not like anything we've seen before”.22 Since AIDS has come to the point where it seems totally incurable, the United States must combine with other countries and harshly focus on this disaster. The governments of some controversial countries such as China cannot stand back and practically ignore the amount of people living with AIDS in their country. There should also definitely be more knowledge to the everyday person about AIDS. There has to be

21 22

“Factsheet: Top killer diseases in the developing world” Walter Goodman, “Review/Television; What Is Being Done About AIDS”

more attention and make finding a cure to AIDS the top priority of the world. One society cannot change it by themselves. How long can people disregard AIDS and the massive affects it is making to the world? While there are plenty of other problems in the world today, nothing goes above this global crisis.

Bibliography • • • • • Swigert, Michael. “Africa Action Welcomes New Statistics on Global AIDS Pandemic.” (20 March 2008). American Heritage Dictionary. “AIDS.” 2006. (20 March 2008). “AIDS and HIV Infection.” (21 March 2008). Apiwe. “AIDS Orphans.” 31 July 2008. (21 March 2008) Plumley, Peter. “An Actuarial Analysis of the AIDS Epidemic in the U.S.” 21 June 1994. (20
March 2008).

• • • • • • • • • •

“Factsheet: Top killer diseases in the developing world.” (21 March 2008). “Gay Men’s Health Crisis.” (21 March 2008). “History of AIDS and the HIV Virus.” (21 March 2008) Kanabus, Annabel and Fredriksson, Jenni. “History of AIDS up to 1986.” 7 July 2008. (21 March 2008). “HIV/AIDS and the social sectors.” 28-31 January 2002. (21 March 2008). “HIV/AIDS: types of Antiretroviral drugs.” 01 Dec 2000. (21 March 2008). Ferro, Frank. “Millions in Africa to benefit from Aids drugs.” 15 August 2008. (21 March 2008). “Reagan and Bush in the Age of AIDS.” 01 June 2006. (20 March 2008). Wright, Joe. “Remembering the Early Days of 'Gay Cancer'.” 8 May 2006. (21 March 2008) Goodman, Walter. “Review/Television; What Is Being Done About AIDS.” 12 April 1994. (20 March 2008).

• • • • • • • •

“Ryan’s Story.” (21 March 2008) Greek, Ray C.; Greek, Jean Swingle; Goodall, Jane. “Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals.” pg. 195. 2000 Hawes, Alexander. “Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act: Introduction.” 1994-2007. (21 March 2008). Scutchfield, Kathleen. “Vital Statistics.” 1993. (21 March 2008). “What Does AIDS Mean?” 2007. (20 March 2008) “Why Children and AIDS?” (20 March 2008). Spink, Gemma. “Women, HIV and AIDS.” 5 September 2008. (21 March 2008). “Yalta of AIDS.” 13 April 1987. (21 March 2008).

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