December 1st was World HIV Day. I logged on to Facebook that morning, unprepared for what I would learn. “Nine years ago… I was diagnosed with HIV,” the Facebook post read. I paused in surprise; the post was written by a minister in my church. The minister reflected on his life since his diagnosis. “Thank you God for the medical marvels that keep my body healthy and strong, for a loving spouse who never sees me as anything other than lovable…” he wrote. In another post, a former priest wrote about a friend who died in 2016. “If I am to truly honor the fullness of who he was as a person, I can not do that by remaining silent. So I never will be.”
HIV is the precursor to AIDS. It stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. According to the CDC, it probably came from chimpanzees who were hunted and eaten by humans. Humans consumed the chimpanzee’s infected blood and, from there, transmitted it on.
There are three stages of HIV: an acute infection, a chronic infection, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. It can be spread through unprotected sex or sharing injection equipment. It can also be transmitted through breastfeeding, or when a mother gives birth to her child. In that case, vaginal secretions can infect the newborn. Healthcare professionals can also be infected through inadvertent needle sticks.
According to the World Health Organization, 38 million people worldwide were infected with HIV at the end of 2019. 33 million people have died since the beginning of the epidemic. While there are treatments available, unfortunately, there is no cure in sight.