Life After AIDS: A Realistic Timetable

Up until 2001 and the advent of antiretroviral (ART) medications, HIV and AIDS was considered an epidemic, with death almost a certainty. Or, at least this was the case for those who were not wealthy or heavily covered by health insurance. AZT, the first popular antiretroviral drug, was extremely expensive. It was also only available in limited quantities, as manufacturers strained to produce enough of the drug for the needs of the worldwide population. This has all changed. Because of new research, a greater awareness of HIV, and insight into what the virus is and how it works, many scientists and doctors are reasonably hopeful in a future life after AIDS. In fact, some are even creating realistic timetables as to when this could be realized.

There is still no known cure for HIV infection. It is this virus – when left untreated – that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). There are several drugs available today, however, which can either deactivate HIV cells or kill them outright. Through a regimen of these drugs, a person can survive with HIV for many years, even decades, without ever developing AIDS.

Moreover, this new phase of research into anti-HIV medications has resulted in an outpouring of education and understanding about the virus and disease. Certainly, the stigmas that were once attached to AIDS in the 1980’s have lessened. Because of the new treatments and changing attitudes, many have come forward to be tested who, in the past, might have assumed they would die and didn’t come forward for treatment to avoid the ‘shame’ of being HIV positive. Thanks to this domino effect of research and awareness the number of deaths from AIDS, although still unacceptably high, has been drastically reduced to 3 million per year. It has also led to fewer new infections from HIV, which numbers around 3.5 million per year.

In impoverished countries, those without adequate access to drug therapies, medical facilities, and proper HIV education, the number of deaths to AIDS along with new cases of HIV is still on the rise. This is the biggest hurdle to achieving the lofty goal of a life after AIDS. Even so, with the dramatic results in the past 13 years in countries like the United States, many are hopeful that by the later end of the 21st century, it is possible there will be no new infections. This will only happen when drugs have advanced to the point that they can completely sterilize the virus and when said drugs are accessible to everyone in the world.