DARKE COUNTY — World AIDS Day has been taking place on Dec. 1 every year since 1988, providing an opportunity to draw attention to the HIV epidemic around the world.
Many people, it was noted on one website, choose to organize an event on or around Dec. 1, to raise awareness of HIV, to remember loved ones who have died, to show solidarity with people living with HIV, to celebrate survival and health, and to raise money for HIV and related causes.
For many people the day is associated with the red ribbon, an instantly recognizable symbol. Wearing a red ribbon is a simple way to show your support, and there are also many other ways in which you can get involved.
Every year there is a theme for World AIDS Day. From 2011 until 2015 there is an ongoing international theme of ‘Getting to zero.’ The theme is set by the World AIDS Campaign, an international coalition of HIV and AIDS groups and networks.
No area is immune to this disease, not even in Darke County.
The Daily Advocate talked to one county resident, who will go by the name Malcolm in this feature. He has been living with this dreaded disease for more than two decades, having been diagnosed at the health department in Dayton.
“I heard about AIDS in the 1980s and I thought that will never be me,” Malcomb said.
Was he ever wrong! But, he is surviving.
“Health-wise, I have had a lot of issues but I’m still holding on,” he said. “My quality of life has improved.”
Malcomb said he is on his third HIV immune specialist.
“They are all very good doctors who know what they are doing,” he said. “I asked the last one why I’ve lived so long and he tells me I do exactly as they tell me. HIV isn’t the culprit that will kill me, but a normal health problem I’ll die from. I’m in remission.”
Malcomb said HIV is not detectable.
“Medicines are keeping the disease where it can’t multiply,” he said. “I have been on a lot of drugs, AZT originally. The main side effect is chronic diarrhea.”
He is hoping within the next few months, doctors will introduce him to one more new drug. If all goes well, that will be the only one medication he will be taking, instead of what he is currently ingesting.
“He’ll put me on a new drug…one pill every day instead of tons of pills everyday,” he said. “The doctor said my medication records are a mystery. The doctor is thorough.”
He said he takes three kinds of medicine for his cholesterol, heart medications for his valves, two kinds of HIV drugs, neuropathy medicine and herbs.
Malcomb also has had his share of medical procedures done over the years.
“I had to have my second surgery for two hernias, non-HIV related,” he said. “I have to have colonoscopies, because I keep getting polyps that are cancerous. Melanoma is one of the cancer I have. It’s really bad. You don’t get rid of it. I’ll never be clear of melanoma cancer.”
In addition to melanoma, heart attack could be a possibility.
This disease, he said has caused him to be afflicted with neuropathy.
“I’m in the first stage of four and I have a start of dementia, either from HIV or by it being hereditary,” he said. “They are so advanced on HIV now. There is no immune system to protect you.”
One thing he is grateful for is that his mother preceded him in death.
“I’m glad she didn’t have to come to my funeral and to through that anguish,” he said.
Malcomb said his past was consumed with drugs and alcohol, and said he’s not proud of that.
“I’m a Christian but I tell people like it is,” he said.
His advice to others, “If you’re promiscuous, be very careful. There are people out there who will deliberately give it to you because they’re angry and want to give it to others. Do what the doctors tell you and take your medications and stay as healthy as possible.”
When he first heard his diagnosis, Malcomb said he was devastated.
“I didn’t think I’d live two years,” The 60-year-old said. “That’s when the doctor told me to do what he told me to do. Now, he said I should live up into my 8os.”
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:
“Acquired means you can get infected with it; Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases; and Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease,” it was noted. “AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will make “antibodies,” special molecules to fight HIV. Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for many years. As HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system. Viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria that usually don’t cause any problems can make you very sick if your immune system is damaged. These are called ‘opportunistic infections.’”
One source said a person doesn’t actually “get” AIDS. He/she might get infected with HIV, and later might develop AIDS.
The source went on to say, “You can get infected with HIV from anyone who’s infected, even if they don’t look sick and even if they haven’t tested HIV-positive yet. The blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk of people infected with HIV has enough of the virus in it to infect other people. Most people get the HIV virus by: having sex with an infected person; sharing a needle (shooting drugs) with someone who’s infected; being born when their mother is infected, or drinking the breast milk of an infected woman.”
Getting a transfusion of infected blood used to be a way people got AIDS, but now the blood supply is screened very carefully and the risk is extremely low, the source pointed out.
Living with HIV is not what it used to be, according to one website.
“If you have HIV, there are many things you can do to help take care of yourself,” it said. “HIV treatment is more than just taking pills. It’s about having strong relationships and making lifestyle changes that work for you. This could mean changing your diet, stress levels, exercise, and sleep habits, as well as paying extra attention to your day-to-day health.”