Aids—The Epidemic Continues
KAREN grew up in the western United States.a As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she maintained high moral standards throughout her youth. In 1984, when she was 23 years old, she married Bill, who had been a Witness for only two years. They were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl.
By 1991 their love had deepened, and they were content and happy. Late that year, Bill developed a white spot on his tongue that persisted. He visited a doctor.
Shortly after that, Karen and the children were outside raking leaves. Bill sat on the porch step and called Karen to sit beside him. He put his arms around her waist and said with tears in his eyes that he loved her and wanted to live forever with her. Then why the tears? The doctor suspected that Bill had been infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.
The family was tested. Bill and Karen’s results were positive. Bill had become infected before he became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses; he, in turn, had passed the infection on to Karen. The children’s results were negative. Within three years, Bill was dead. Karen says: “I don’t know how to express what it is like to watch the once handsome man you love and intend to live with forever slowly melt away and shrivel to skin and bones. I cried many nights. He died three months short of our tenth wedding anniversary. He was a good father and a good husband.”
Though a doctor told Karen that she would soon follow her husband into death, she is still alive. The infection has progressed to the early stages of AIDS.
Karen is but one of about 30 million people now living with HIV/AIDS, a figure larger than the combined populations of Australia, Ireland, and Paraguay. Estimates indicate that Africa has 21 million of these victims. According to United Nations figures, by the turn of the century, that number could soar to 40 million people. One UN report says that the disease rivals the greatest epidemics of history. Of the world’s sexually active adults aged 15 to 49, 1 in 100 has already been infected with HIV. Of these, only 1 in 10 realizes that he or she is infected. In some parts of Africa, 25 percent of the adults are infected.
Since the beginning of the epidemic in 1981, an estimated 11.7 million people have died of AIDS. It is estimated that in 1997 alone, about 2.3 million people perished. Nevertheless, there are fresh reasons for optimism in the battle against AIDS. During the past few years, there has been a drop in new AIDS cases in wealthy nations. In addition, promising drugs hold out hope of better health and prolonged life.
How can you protect yourself against AIDS? What are the latest developments in treatment and vaccines? Will the disease ever be vanquished? These questions will be answered in the following articles.
a Names have been changed.