HIV/AIDS is a pandemic that, as of 2018, affects nearly 40 million people worldwide, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) interfere with the body’s immune system, increasing the risk of developing common infections.

Between the early 1980s — the time that AIDS was identified — and 2018, the disease caused an estimated 32 million deaths worldwide.

All the more tragic is that without access to medication, mothers can pass on HIV to their babies, creating a vicious cycle that has the potential to span generations.

How Does HIV/AIDS Affect Communities?

While about half of cases are in eastern and southern Africa, the impact of HIV/AIDS is far-reaching and global.

Not only does HIV/AIDS have major health consequences, but it’s also closely associated with discrimination, including violence against HIV-infected individuals.

This stigma-related violence or the fear of violence prevents many people from seeking HIV testing, returning for their results, or securing treatment, possibly turning what could be a manageable chronic illness into a death sentence and perpetuating the spread of HIV.

These stigmas play out largely in tandem with other stigmas — particularly related to homosexuality, promiscuity, prostitution, and intravenous drug use.

Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected H9 T cell. / Image Credit: NIAID

In developed nations — including the United States — HIV/AIDS is closely associated with homosexuality, leading to higher instances of homophobia. And it wasn’t until 2003 that people living with AIDS in China could legally marry.

These stigmas perpetuate the myth that transmission usually occurs during sexual encounters between two men, when in fact, the dominant mode of spread worldwide for HIV remains heterosexual transmission, according to a study published in 2012 by researchers with Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why Should I Be Hopeful?

There is no cure or vaccine (yet), but thanks to medical advances, treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy.

Early detection and treatment with strict adherence to medication can allow an HIV-positive person to live a long and healthy life.

Thanks to the good advocacy work of organizations such as (RED), which supports programs on the ground that help millions of people impacted by HIV/AIDS by partnering with globally known brands to raise funds, now people around the world have access to life-saving medication.

"AIDS-related deaths have declined by 60 percent since their peak in 2003, and the number of babies born each day with HIV has declined by more than two-thirds since 2000."

AIDS-related deaths have declined by 60 percent since their peak in 2003, and the number of babies born each day with HIV has declined by more than two-thirds since 2000.

Medication is just a small portion of the whole picture, though. To eradicate HIV/AIDS worldwide, a multi-pronged approach is necessary, including prevention, testing, and education.

With strong support and the fight against discrimination, people at risk of contracting HIV can get the help they need to lower the risk of transmission.

The best news is that the scientific community has been working for decades to find a cure, and the HIV cure landscape has seen a number of vaccine trials achieving varying degrees of success.

This includes the possibility of an mRNA vaccine, similar to the COVID-19 vaccine, to protect against HIV.

According to a study record posted to the United States National Institutes of Health Clinical Trial registry, it's estimated that Moderna could begin phase 1 of human trials for a vaccine as soon as September 19th. We're hopeful it could prove highly effective.

Three Ways to Join the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

While we've made significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, there are still millions of people affected. On top of that, COVID-19 has made access to healthcare, checkups, and medication more difficult to access.

We each have an opportunity to step up and make a difference to bring about an end to HIV/AIDS in our lifetime.

Here are three simple ideas for how you can get involved:

Change your shopping habits.

Shop (RED) products and save lives. (RED) partners with brands you love to create products and experiences that fund the fight to end AIDS.

And since the start of 2020, (RED) has expanded its efforts to include another pandemic: COVID-19.

When you shop Apple, Durex, The Honey Pot, Truff, Moleskine, and more, simply choose the (RED)-branded version of their product — and those brands will make a donation to support life-saving health programs in the world's most vulnerable communities.

Make a donation.

Donate to The Mercury Phoenix Trust, a nonprofit that supports people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to their website, "The Mercury Phoenix Trust was founded by Brian May, Roger Taylor, and their manager Jim Beach in memory of rock band Queen’s iconic lead singer Freddie Mercury who died in 1991 from AIDS."

They provide direct funding to both large NGOs and grassroots organizations doing meaningful projects around the world.

Volunteer your time.

Volunteer with ONE — a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, so everyone, everywhere can lead a life of dignity and opportunity.

By signing up as a volunteer, you'll get the opportunity to advocate to elected officials for relevant policy change, organize grassroots events, or give or receive training and education.

A VERSION OF THIS STORY ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE Health Heroes EDITION OF THE GOODNEWSPAPER IN September 2020. THE GOODNEWSPAPER IS OUR MONTHLY PRINT NEWSPAPER FILLED WITH GOOD NEWS.
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