The purpose of the present sample essay is to provide an overview of HIV within the United States and to discuss the treatments available to people who are infected by HIV. The essay will have four parts:
- A brief history of HIV within the United States
- Current treatments for HIV and the relative level of effectiveness
- Efforts currently underway to develop an actual cure for HIV
- Reflection on what can be done at the sociological level to address the plight of patients
A key conclusion that will emerge is that while it is very much reasonable to hope for a cure for HIV in the near future, it may also be important to work toward doing away with the stigmatization generally faced by HIV patients at the sociological level. This sample essay provides an example of the features available at Ultius custom writing service.
Understanding HIV and AIDS
HIV is an acronym for human immunodeficiency virus, and it is a sexually transmitted disease that produces the symptoms of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in the infected patient. HIV has historically been a debilitating and eventually lethal illness, due to the fact that the illness affects the patient by systematically weakening his own immune system.
This means that the person infected by HIV eventually becomes highly susceptible to a wide range of illnesses that the uninfected person is generally protected against, while at the same time becoming less able to fight off the illnesses once they have entered the body. As the immune system progressively gets weaker and weaker, the patient gets affected by increasingly severe symptoms; these symptoms are collectively known as AIDS.
The controversial origins of HIV
Regarding the history of the HIV virus, the organization AVERT has written:
“The history of HIV and AIDS in the USA began in 1981 when the United States of America became the first country to officially recognize a strange new illness among a small number of gay men. Today, it is generally accepted that the origins of AIDS probably lies in Africa” (paragraph 1).
The illness probably first jumped to human beings from chimpanzees, through the contact between the blood of an infected chimpanzee with wounds or sores in a person (perhaps a hunter) in the depths of Africa, and the virus then mutated in such a way that it became capable of infecting the human body and transmitting itself to other human bodies. Many researchers claim the virus’s origins is one of the reasons South Africa has one of the worst epidemics of HIV.
Through a chain of infections, then, it eventually reached the United States, where it was first detected primarily within the homosexual community. The fact that the HIV virus first emerged among gay men has had important implications for the way in which the public has responded to the illness over the course of the past couple decades. In particular, homosexuality has historically carried a strong social stigma—a stigma that is only beginning to experience alleviation at the present time, through, for example, the legalization of gay marriage within the United States.
In the 1980s, however, the stigma was still clearly in full force; and this resulted in relative apathy in the general public regarding the pursuit of meaningful treatment for the new illness, due to either the implicit or explicit moral judgment that insofar as the illness primarily affected homosexuals, they were more or less doing it to themselves (AVERT). This is obviously cruel and unjust, and one cannot regret that this kind of ethos regarding HIV has largely faded over time. To a large extent, it can be suggested that the fact that HIV first emerged among gay men was a historical accident, with no necessary or intrinsic correlation existing between being gay and contracting AIDS.
Treatments available for HIV
Currently available treatments for HIV are largely pharmacological in nature. As the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has written:
“HIV is treated using a combination of medicines to fight HIV infection. This is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART isn’t a cure, but it can control the virus so that you can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others” (paragraph 1).
A patient receiving ART treatment must take his cocktail of prescribed medications every single day in order for the treatment to be effective. The medications fulfill the function of preventing the replication of the HIV virus within the patient’s body. This means that while the patient will still have the HIV virus within his body, it will be controlled by the medications, which means that it will both do less damage to the patient’s immune system and that it will be less likely to be transmitted to other persons by the patient, even during sexual activity.
ART represents treatment, not cure
All current treatment for HIV consists of ART: what differs is not the method so much as the specific cocktail of medications that is prescribed to a given patient, which varies according to a holistic analysis of the patient, his medical history, and his specific needs. Again this treatment does not actually cure the illness, insofar an actual “cure” would consist of a treatment that eradicates the HIV virus from the patient’s body altogether, as opposed to merely preventing its replication within the body.
ART treatment is in fact highly effective at improving the longevity and quality of life of the HIV patient, and it is a treatment that is officially recommended by health agencies for all people who are infected by HIV. The ultimate medical objective, though, would clearly be to find an actual cure for the illness. This has been the object of much current research, and it will also be the main topic that will be addressed by the following section of the present essay.
Finding a cure for HIV
Currently, there is no cure or vaccination for HIV. Finding a true cure for HIV has been very difficult due to the fact that that the virus behaves in what could perhaps only be described to be a “sneaky” way. One of the most effective ART treatments against HIV is called HAART, and it has been known to reduce HIV levels in the patient’s body to almost undetectable levels. For example, Groopman has written about a lead research who told him:
“about the first time he saw the latent virus emerge in the memory of T cells of an H.I.V. patient on HAART. The patient was thought to be cured” (paragraph 11).
The problem here consists of the fact that the HIV virus is apparently capable of maintaining what are called “hidden reservoirs” within the patient’s body. That is, even when ART therapy eliminates almost all existing copies of the virus within the patient, the virus is still able to produce itself out of the memory of the infection that remains imprinted within the cells of the patient’s body. The upshot is that the conclusion cannot be reached that the control of HIV in the patient’s body, even its momentary elimination, is indicative of a true cure having been achieved.
The Berlin Patient cured
Thus far, there has been exactly one patient who has seemingly been cured of HIV. He was originally known simply as The Berlin Patient, but his name is now publicly known to be Timothy Brown. The experimental treatment that was implemented in this treatment involved intensive stem cell therapy that was used to essentially rebuild the patient’s immune system; and most notably, the donor for the therapy had a mutation that conferred immunity against HIV on him. Brown had been suffering from cancer as well as HIV infection.
Now, though, after having received the treatment in 2007, “Brown remains free of both his cancer and readily detectable HIV” (defeatHIV, paragraph 2). The patient himself, though, has been notably reticent in actually proclaiming himself to be “cured,” due to his awareness of the way that HIV in many patients has resurfaced long after it was presumed to have been eradicated from their bodies (Purdy).
HIV cure research and experiments
Pollack has discussed how at the present time, several initiatives are underway to find a cure for HIV, including initiatives that involve partnerships between research universities and pharmaceutical companies. Much of this research focuses, naturally, on the problem of how to eliminate HIV from the infected person’s body in such a way that it will no longer be able to replicate itself out of its hidden reservoirs. The Berlin Patient’s treatment, while providing hope for researchers in the field, is generally considered impractical in terms of logistics for widespread implementation among patients infected with HIV.
However, the fact that a cure for HIV has not been discovered yet by no means implies that such a cure is impossible: rather, the “close-misses” at cures could itself be considered, statistically speaking, as way stations toward the progress toward a true cure. Such a cure would either be absolute in nature, which would entail the total eradication of the HIV from the patient’s body; or, it would be functional, which would entail creating the impossibility of the HIV (while still present in small amounts) from ever again replicating in the future. It is not entirely clear which of these two categories of cure applies in the case of The Berlin Patient.
Sociological reflection on the prevention of HIV
Medical efforts are thus still underway in order to find a true cure for HIV. In the meanwhile, though, the suggestion can be made that the real barrier against improvements in quality of life for a large number of HIV patients are not medical but rather sociological in nature. For example, ART treatment, while not a cure for HIV, can nevertheless control the illness indefinitely, enabling many patients to live long and healthy lives even with their infections.
But access to ART treatment is limited by several demographic factors, including, poverty, socioeconomic status, and awareness of the treatment. In other words, in addition to there not yet being a cure for HIV, a serious problem regarding the illness consists of the gross underutilization of existing treatment options for patients.
Ryan has reached a harsh but accurate verdict in this regard:
“Because AIDS has from its very beginning been a disease of the marginalized, we have allowed it to spread like a weed through the cracks in our society. Inaction more than transmission, is at issue here. HIV causes AIDS, yes, but the AIDS crisis is caused by stigma, oppression, discrimination, and apathy” (paragraph 3).
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of HIV and treatments for the illness. Two important points have emerged here. The first is that while highly effective treatments exist, a true cure has been more difficult to find, due to the fact that HIV is able to hide within the patient’s body in unexpected ways. The second is that in addition to continuing to seek a true cure, it is also essential for stakeholders in the issue to work toward ensuring that existing ART therapies are utilized in an optimal way. In particular, it is likely that many people are unnecessarily suffering and dying from AIDS due to simple lack of awareness of or access to ART therapies that could significantly improve the quality of their lives.
AVERT. “History of HIV & AIDS in the U.S.A.” Author, 30 May 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. http://www.avert.org/history-hiv-aids-usa.htm.
defeatHIV. “Berlin Patient.” Author, 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. http://defeathiv.org/berlin/.
Groopman, Jerome. “Can AIDS Be Cured?” New Yorker. 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/22/can-aids-cured.
Hill, Alison. “Why There’s No HIV Cure Yet.” PBS. 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/missing-hiv-cure/.
Pollack, Andrew. “Drugmaker and University Ally to Seek Cure for AIDS.” New York Times. 10 May 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/business/drugmaker-and-university-ally-to-seek-cure-for-aids.html.
Purdy, Dave. “The Cure for HIV Rides a Bike.” Washington Blade. 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. http://www.washingtonblade.com/2013/02/13/the-cure-for-hiv-rides-a-bike/.
Ryan, Hugh. “We Can End AIDS without a Cure.” Slate. 29 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2013/11/29/world_aids_day_2013_ending_aids_without_a_cure.html.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Overview of HIV Treatments.” Author, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/just-diagnosed-with- hiv-aids/treatment-options/overview-of-hiv-treatments/.