April 25, 2007
In an era of robust AIDS therapy, just 20 of 900 HIV/AIDS patients seen by Wichita physician Donna Sweet died last year. Unfortunately, that good news means some people believe they can engage in risky sexual behavior and IV drug use without consequences, she said.
Sweet said HIV is no longer perceived as a threat by some because "they're not seeing people get sick and die." "You don't see people with black spots on their faces. You're not seeing the wasting." If only for vanity or to avoid a miserable death, youths took HIV/AIDS much more seriously in the 1980s and early 90s, she noted.
Some heterosexuals still do not consider HIV/AIDS a problem, Sweet said. About 80 percent of new infections among women are contracted through unprotected heterosexual sex, she noted. "Drugs are still a factor for some, but not necessarily injection drugs. People can do a lot of sexual things under the influence," she said. "Cocaine and meth use have fueled the epidemic. People are also trading sex for drugs."
Concurrent with lower HIV/AIDS awareness, the population of people with the disease is growing "and our funding is not," Sweet said. "Fundraising is hard. There are lots of different diseases. This one has fallen off the radar screen. We struggle constantly to make sure our patients have what they need."