Sometime in the past decade or so, it seems the fear that was instilled in many of us growing up about the then deadly HIV/AIDS virus had slowly receded.
The widespread awareness campaigns had taken over billboards and TV commercials had slowed, giving many of us the impression that the disease is somehow no longer really a thing to worry about.
But today is World AIDS Day – and there’s a reason (or millions) that it’s still a very important day.
If you don’t think HIV/AIDS is a problem, think again. Here’s what you should be aware of and why you should care:
There were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2014, according to the World Health Organization. An estimated 2 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2014.
Currently, 73,000 Canadians are HIV positive – a figure that’s up from 49,000 in 2001, according to statistics from the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CanFAR). This has to do with the fact that people are living longer with the disease, which means a need for an increase in service requirements for the aging population of those living with HIV.
HIV rates are on the rise for women. In Canada, they made up more than 27 per cent of Canada’s HIV-positive test results in 2006. The majority of Canadian women who test positive became infected through unprotected heterosexual intercourse.
Rapid HIV tests are available in Canada. Part of the anxiety with HIV/AIDS testing back in the day was waiting the two weeks for the results. Approved by Health Canada, for a rapid test, a clinic will analyze your blood sample while you wait, then give them to you immediately.
Twenty-five percent of Canadians infected with HIV/AIDS don’t know they have it. That’s the scariest thing about the virus. Anonymous testing is available in clinics across your city, and all results must be legally kept confidential.
The good news, is, of course, thanks to modern drugs, a HIV diagnosis is no longer seen as a life sentence – one Winnipeg man, for example, has been living with HIV for 30 years. However, this doesn’t mean their lives are free of complications.
“There is often the perception that the disease is no longer a big deal. Maybe you know somebody who is HIV positive but they are healthy, they take one pill a day and are good, so it is no big deal anymore. But there still is no cure, and this is something you are going to be living with for the rest of your life. While it is true that many people live healthy lives with HIV – often relying on just one pill a day – that does not mean that they will always have it that easy. With a compromised immune system, anything can happen. One virus that’s out there in cold season could knock you out, so you are thinking about that kind of thing for the rest of your life,” Daniel Knox, the Director of Development for AIDS Committee of Toronto told us last year.
As for the future, experts in the field have set a somewhat ambitious goal to end the epidemic by 2030. Whether that will happen remains to be seen; in the meantime, we can all do our part to spread awareness, not ignorance, about the disease.