Actor Charlie Sheen went on Tuesday morning’s “Today” show to tell the world he’s HIV-positive.
“I’m here to admit that I am HIV-positive,” Sheen told anchor Matt Laurer.
While Sheen takes public his battle with the disease (and those he alleges have blackmailed him over it), a larger and more hopeful story of HIV and AIDS is playing out.
Earlier this year, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates shared some good news on the heels of the 2015 UNAIDS Global Report.
Not only are fewer people in the world getting HIV, the report concludes, but those that do are dying less frequently than ever before from AIDS — the condition created by years of HIV destroying the body’s immune system.
HIV by itself doesn’t usually kill — people die when the virus kills their white blood cells and essentially disables their immune system, making infections that most people don’t even notice deadly.
Gates pointed to a July story at The Economist, which attributes our ability to help those with HIV live longer to greater access to effective treatments against the virus, called antiretroviral therapies (ARVs). These drugs slow HIV’s attacks on the immune system, and reduce its ability to spread to other people.
Increased and more widespread use of condoms in the 1990s helped rein in the spread of the life-threatening disease. And a huge effort — spearheaded by the Gates Foundation in the early 2000s — to get more ARV drugs to countries with the greatest need for them, helped lower the incidence of AIDS in those already infected.
These two efforts, working in tandem, had a drastic impact on worldwide HIV and AIDS cases:
Gates can take some credit for this drastic change. Fighting HIV is a major focus of Gates’ charity work. His foundation has committed more than $US2.5 billion in HIV grants to organisations around the world.
But there’s more we can do: The Economist estimates that 37 million people have HIV and only 15 million of them receive drug treatment.
And scientists are still working on new treatments, and possibly cures. While we haven’t found a definitive cure for HIV/AIDS, there have been some interesting developments recently.
For example, there’s an eyebrow-raising little blue pill called Truvada. It doesn’t treat the virus or its complications; rather, it’s a preventative drug that, when taken by a person who isn’t infected with HIV can help stop them from getting it.
Some publications have incorrectly hailed the drug as “100% effective.” In reality, it’s likely about 92% effective when used by people who are at the highest risk of exposure to the virus.
Still, it looks to be another promising tool — in addition to condoms, ARV drugs, and more — to fight a global epidemic that has claimed millions of lives.
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