About AIDS

HIV Care Is Available in Austin

At an otherwise festive holiday lunch, a colleague informed me of yet another acquaintance diagnosed with AIDS. In his late 20's, attractive, talented, energetic, and socially skilled, he has advanced Kaposi's sarcoma ("the AIDS cancer") and is not expected to live long.

Personally, I acknowledge having conflicting emotions, one of the occupational hazards of working in HIV. My heart hurts for this boy, who is suffering dreadfully from both the disease and the aggressive treatments. However, at the same time I am perplexed and frustrated with the conceptual "him" - those people (and they are too numerous) who know they are at serious risk for HIV, yet who do not get tested; and those who, once diagnosed, do not do what they could to manage the infection and maximize health. This young man epitomizes both, and his impending death is so unnecessary. Certainly, such disregard is not limited to HIV/AIDS (don't we all know someone who doesn't address their health decisively?), but advances in HIV have come at such a human cost that the waste seems especially sad.

Staying HIV-negative is complex and often difficult. But to know that one has a potentially fatal infection and to not "pay attention," as it was characterized, is just beyond me. If someone has a functional life (and not all HIV+ people do), there is much that can be done, and there are many resources available at ASA and elsewhere. Disease management requires effort and commitment; it may not be easy, but for the majority of patients, it works.

As we enter the new millennium and broach the 20th year of the AIDS epidemic, death from AIDS should become the exception, not the norm, for HIV-positive people. Individuals at risk should get tested and make responsible choices. Those who are HIV-infected should get into the available continuum of care to optimize life span and quality of life. To do any less is to treat oneself with grave injustice.

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