Hope for the Future: The 30th Anniversary of AIDS
By Elizabeth Lombino
June 3, 2011
This month the discovery of AIDS turns 30. On June 5, 1981, a rare pneumonia diagnosed in five Los Angeles gay men was reported to the CDC. These were the first ever documented cases of what would later become known as AIDS. (Check out a comprehensive history of HIV/AIDS here).
From that significant moment in history followed one of the most devastating and tumultuous medical and political travesties in our modern history. For those who lived through the monsoon, few pleasant memories remain. Thousands of lives were needlessly lost in the early years of this epidemic. At the same time, many survived and continue to survive and thrive 30 years later.
The 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS is a bittersweet milestone for this medical phenomenon that changed our world forever.
First the bitter -- What contributed to the bitter ignorance of HIV/AIDS early on was the assumption that AIDS only affected gay men. In fact, the condition was first called GRID for Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. When we factor in the fact that Ronald Reagan was president at the time, it becomes clear that an insidiously judgmental and hateful climate took over and did little to curb the spread of this violent disease.
Today, we know that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate (well, most of us know this, anyway). Anyone can become infected with HIV when engaging in high risk behaviors. HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease and it is not a disease only reserved for those who some may consider to be the "less than desirable" members of society. HIV/AIDS can and does impact all of our lives, even if some people refuse to believe it.
Stigma, discrimination, and countless myths continue to surround HIV/AIDS. HIV continues to spread at alarming rates, perhaps because some individuals believe they are exempt from impact of HIV. Funding streams continue to be cut and underfunded. To that end, we still need increased awareness, comprehensive education, and strong advocacy to improve the overall climate of HIV/AIDS in our country.
Now the sweet -- HIV/AIDS has come a long way in 30 years. We may still be many miles away from a cure, yet the medical advances that have been made to treat this pesky virus are monumental. HIV/AIDS is now considered to be a chronic illness. People are living long, vibrant, healthy lives with HIV. Professionally, I have worked with people who are 10-, 15-, 20-, 25-year survivors. For a variety of reasons, long-term HIV survivors have beat the odds that were set for them back at the height of the epidemic. Today, those who are diagnosed with HIV and AIDS are given a good prognosis. They are expected to live longer lives, with medications and support. This is a tremendous and beautiful accomplishment.
No matter what the future of HIV/AIDS holds for us, we need to maintain the hope that it will get better. Hold onto the hope for a cure, for a vaccine, for continued advancements in treatment. Share the hope with all those living with HIV/AIDS that they will continue to be healthy and strong. Enrich the hope that we will finally and completely combat the stigma that is attached to all things related to HIV/AIDS. Foster the hope that we can one day overcome this devastating disease. Without hope, we cannot and will not improve our world as it pertains to HIV/AIDS. By spreading hope, HIV/AIDS will certainly see a much brighter future.
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As a Social Worker, I have been providing mental health treatment to HIV-positive adults for over 10 years. I received my master's in Social Work from Columbia University. Also, I write about HIV/AIDS advocacy and present at national conferences on the issues related to HIV/AIDS to professionals and students. Through writing and presenting, I can better advocate for the issues that I see with my clients every day. Living with HIV/AIDS can be a daily struggle with many unique challenges. My goal with this blog is to provide a sort of cyber therapy space for you to learn some skills and tools to better cope with these challenges. Hopefully you will gain confidence and look at life in new ways. Through humor, hope, sarcasm, education, and other therapeutic tools, let me help you live a happier life! So sit back, relax, and let's start relieving some stress!
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June 3, 2011 - Hope for the Future: The 30th Anniversary of AIDS -- A Blog Entry by Elizabeth Lombino
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