There seems to be less of an urgency associated with our current discussions around HIV/AIDS. Though still a source of stigma and lingering fear, HIV often appears to us as a tragedy of the previous generation. Alas, the pandemic is far from being over, and in 2017 an estimated 36.9 million people lived with HIV globally, including 1.8 million children.
Vulnerable populations and people living in low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the virus, with over 65 percent of individuals living with HIV located in sub-Saharan Africa. In Russia and Eastern Europe, HIV diagnoses are at an all-time high, and in the United States infection rates among certain ethnic and racial minorities has increased in the past few years. What all of these populations share in common is a deadly concoction of meagre resources and prevalent conservatism, which prevents them from finding out their status and seeking help.
UNAIDS, the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS, has set a goal of eliminating the epidemic worldwide by 2030. In order to achieve this ambitious target, the organisation has set an additional ‘90-90-90’ goal, according to which by 2020 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. However, lack of awareness and crippling stigmas surrounding the disease make reaching these goals unlikely.
AIDSVu, an interactive online map that visualises the impact of HIV on communities across the U.S., offers a highly useful solution to this problem. Led by Patrick Sullivan, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and co-director of the CFAR Prevention Science Core, the project uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health departments, and prescription analytics in order to map out and track HIV statistics across 36 U.S. cities, 49 states, DC, and Puerto Rico.
Using AIDSVu’s interactive map, people can learn about the HIV epidemic reality in their state, county, or even zip code. In addition to providing statistics about diagnoses according to location, sex, race, and method of transmission, AIDSVu also help users locate services such as HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and clinical trials available in their communities. The website also offers focused information tool kits and experts’ views to particular groups that are vulnerable to HIV, such as trans people and youths.
One of the great advantages of AIDSVu is that it paints an incredibly vivid map of the HIV reality in the United States. Glancing at the statistics city by city, county by county, and state by state, one could immediately discern the troubling disparities that exist between communities in terms of access to information, care, and services, largely along lines of race and socio-economic background. In Pennsylvania, for instance, out of 34,233 individuals living with HIV 48.3 percent of them are African American and 16.4 percent are Hispanic/ Latinx. In Atlanta, black males are 5 times more likely to be living with HIV than white males and black females are 15 times more likely to contract the virus than their white counterparts. And the list goes on.
Furthermore, by making HIV statistics and services information so easily accessible online, AIDSVu significantly contributes to spreading awareness of the issue. As stigma, misconceptions, and fear still shroud the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many people prefer to remain in the dark and do not get tested, learn about prevention methods, or seek care. Disseminating such information online may grant a certain degree of anonymity and privacy to individuals who are afraid to openly consult their peers or community members about the issue.
While an increased number of government funded programs and formal education campaigns are needed in order to effectively tackle the HIV pandemic and meet the 2030 UNAIDS goal, an initiative such as AIDSVu could nonetheless provide an immense contribution to the fight against the virus. Imagine what an effect could such a platform have in a place like Tanzania or Nigeria—where openly seeking out HIV-related care could mean a death sentence.
Anti-vaxxers, also known as people who are opposed to vaccination, typically a parent who refuses to vaccinate their child, must be stopped. The anti-vaccination movement, which continues to grow, is a main source of worry for scientists who are sure vaccines work, but it should also be one for the rest of us. Measles (among other diseases) is on the rise once again, and reviews found that there is a correlation between the two problems. Here’s what is wrong with anti-vaxxers and what needs to be done.
The anti-vaccination movement comes from the idea that there’s a connection between vaccination and autism, as well as other brain disorders. This idea rests upon no scientific evidence, but as you’ve probably realised by now, the same can be said about many other beliefs in our increasingly disbelieving world.
Measles is a disease more contagious than Tuberculosis or Ebola, yet it is easily preventable with a vaccine that barely costs anything. When measles was declared to be eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, everyone thought—rightly so—that it was thanks to vaccines. And yet here we are, in 2019, with parents knowingly withholding their children from something that could save them from potential brain damage and death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018 measles cases in the U.S. went up six-fold while they tripled across Europe.
The situation is so bad that even Trump, who only a year ago ‘flirted’ with notorious anti-vaxxers and repeatedly linked vaccinations to autism, declared that people “have to get their shots”. In other words, if even Trump takes these outbreaks seriously, this is not something to disregard. This entirely preventable emergency that started in March this year should be a lesson to everyone about how unfortunate a world without vaccines would be.
A few months after the outbreak, anti-vaxxers are still going strong, lowering herd immunity quickly. In the U.K., Prince Charles’ mission to save homeopathy is reenforcing the public’s distrust in medical science. How? By promoting homeopathy as a miracle remedy, one that hasn’t been provided by the NHS since 2017 and has been described by its chief executive Simon Stevens as “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds”.
The anti-vaccination movement comes exactly from the growing public distrust of vaccines, but also in science, in the government, and in the pharmaceutical industry more broadly. So what can we do, really, apart from making vaccines mandatory for everyone? Tackling fake news and misinformation, especially fake medical news on social media, would be a first step.
In March 2016, even Robert De Niro dabbled in this affair by promoting the anti-vaccination documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe and pushing for the film to be featured in the Tribeca Film Festival. A few days after, De Niro decided not to include the film, most likely realising the larger-scale impact that this could have on the country’s already declining health.
Lastly, it shouldn’t be forgotten that more people are involved in the whole vaccination drama and therefore should be held accountable. Health professionals have to take accountability or be made to do so in this matter as well. We need to ensure that doctors giving shots are equipped with concrete information and available to talk to those who have concerns, so that parents can feel like they’re making well-informed decisions.
Conspiracy theories are fine and should be left alone to thrive on Reddit as long as they’re not hurting people in the process. People that don’t make the effort to promote vaccination are unknowingly allowing anti-vaxxers to do their damage. Anti-vaxxers should be called out—by the government, by doctors, by you, me—so that putting kids’ vaccination ‘on hold’ becomes shocking and taboo again. It’s a matter of life and death.