How Aids Has Affected Our Society

Science - Health
How Aids Has Affected Our Society

Today more Americans are infected with STD\'s than at any other time in
history. The most serious of these diseases is AIDS. Since the first
cases were identified in the United States in 1981, AIDS has touched the
lives of millions of American families. This deadly disease is unlike
any other in modern history. Changes in social behavior can be directly
linked to AIDS. Its overall effect on society has been dramatic.
It is unknown whether AIDS and HIV existed and killed in the U.S. and
North America before the early 1970s. However in the early 1980s,
"deaths by opportunistic infections, previously observed mainly in
tissue-transplant recipients receiving immunosuppressive therapy", were
recognized in otherwise healthy homosexual men. In 1983 French
oncologist Luc Montagnier and scientists at the Pasteur Institute in
Paris isolated what appeared to be a new human retrovirus from the lymph
node of a man at risk for having AIDS. At the same time, scientists
working in the laboratory of American research, scientist Robert Gallo
at the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of
Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and a group headed by American virologist
Jay Levy at the University of California at San Francisco isolated a
retrovirus from people with AIDS and from individuals having contact
with people with AIDS. All three groups of scientists had isolated what
is now known as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

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In 1995 HIV was estimated to infect almost 20 million people worldwide,
and several million of those people had developed AIDS. The disease is
obviously an important social issue.
AIDS has caused many to rethink their own social behavior. People are
forced to use caution when involving themselves in sexual activity.
They must use contraception to avoid the dangers of infection. Many
people consider HIV infection and AIDS to be completely preventable
because the routes of HIV transmission are so well known. To completely
prevent transmission, however, dramatic changes in sexual behavior and
drug dependence would have to occur throughout the world. Prevention
efforts that promote sexual awareness through open discussion and condom
distribution in public schools have been opposed due to fear that these
efforts encourage sexual promiscuity among young adults. Similarly,
needle-exchange programs have been criticized as promoting drug abuse.
Governor Christine Todd Whitman vetoed a bill in New Jersey that tried
to create a needle-exchange program. She was accused of being
"compassionless". She replied that she could not allow drug addicts to
continue to break the law. By distributing needles, she felt that she
was, in fact, encouraging them to break the law.
Prevention programs that identify HIV-infected individuals and notify
their sexual partners, as well as programs that promote HIV testing at
the time of marriage or pregnancy, have been criticized for invading
personal privacy.
Efforts aimed at public awareness have been propelled by
community-based organizations, such as Project Inform and Act-Up, that
provide current information to HIV-infected individuals and to
individuals at risk for infection. Public figures and celebrities who
are themselves

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HIV-infected or have died from AIDS-including American basketball player
Magic Johnson, American actor Rock Hudson, American diver Greg Louganis,
American tennis player Arthur Ashe, and British musician Freddie
Mercury-have personalized the disease of AIDS and have thereby helped
society come to terms with the enormity of the epidemic. In memory of
those people who died from AIDS, especially in the early years of the
epidemic, a giant quilt project was initiated in which each panel of the
quilt was dedicated to the memory of an individual AIDS death. This
quilt has traveled on display from community to community to promote
AIDS awareness.
The U.S. government has also attempted to assist HIV-infected
individuals through legislation and additional community-funding
measures. In 1990 HIV-infected people were included in the Americans
with Disabilities Act, making discrimination against these individuals
for jobs, housing, and other social benefits illegal. Additionally, a
community-funding program designed to assist in the daily lives of
people living with AIDS was established. This congressional act, the
Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, was named in
memory of a young man who contracted HIV through blood products and
became a public figure for his courage in fighting the disease and
community prejudice. The act is still in place, although continued
funding for such social programs is under debate by current legislators.
The lack of effective vaccines and antiviral drugs has spurred
speculation that the funding for AIDS research is insufficient. Although
the actual amount of government funding for AIDS research is large, most
of these funds are used for expensive clinical studies to evaluate new

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drugs.