Observed every December 1, World AIDS Day is a grim reminder that one pandemic has already killed 33 million people in the last 40 years.
In 2019, according to UNAIDS, an estimated 38 million people are living with HIV globally and
“around 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide.”
But the decline we’ve seen for 15-years may be interrupted, sadly, for the HIV and novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemics are crashing into each other.
Many who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s have experienced PTSD recalling the wave of deaths, grief, and fear. (I, for one…)
But over the last several decades, monumental strides against HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS have been made.
On Tuesday, World AIDS Day, there are lessons that can help us better navigate the coronavirus pandemic we are living under right now.
For any new disease, a little humility goes a long way. This is of utmost importance because even a small outbreak has the potential to become a pandemic.
In the case of AIDS, Dr. Anthony Fauci noted that it started with:
“Five gay men, then 26 gay men, and then it’s only a gay man’s disease… And then fast forward a few decades. You have 78 million people who have been infected.”
COVID-19 has shown similar skyrocketing numbers in the last year and requires us to balance the fear of uncertainty with the need to act.
Stigma runs counter to public health and was a significant contributor to the AIDS pandemic as it often prevented patients from taking the very actions needed to curb the pandemic — like getting tested and using protection during intercourse.
We need tests, tests and more tests. The only way to stop a pandemic is to know exactly who is infected so that appropriate protective measures can be taken. This requires wide-scale testing.
As with AIDS and HIV infection, not everyone with COVID-19 is symptomatic and these asymptomatic carriers are significant vectors of transmission.
Reports from the CDC estimate that these asymptomatic carriers are responsible for more than 50% of transmissions.
And they sometimes say that diesel don’t discriminate, but they do. For both AIDS and COVID-19, the risk of disease is higher in communities of color and those that are under-resourced.
For COVID-19, vulnerable populations include those 75+ and those with preexisting chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and obstructive pulmonary disease.
World AIDS Day is even more important this year because it allows us to reflect on how far we’ve come in one pandemic and empowers us to use the lessons learned to battle COVID-19.
The similarities between COVID-19 and AIDS will surely recur in future pandemics, and our ability to learn from them today will pay off in the future.
(via USA Today)