Nov 23 2009

Why Should We Care About AIDS?

About AIDS There are many sores in our society, but the one that plagues our world like no other is the AIDS pandemic. Those infected with HIV are treated like lepers and often ignored and shunned.

As the Body of Christ, caring about this disease, which is primarily spread through deviant behavior (though certainly not all the time), it is our chance to do the unexpected … to care for those infected with HIV, no matter the cause.

And with World AIDS Day next week, it’s as good a time as any to act like the person who came to save us.

What Is AIDS?

Many people know the terms HIV and AIDS, and often use them interchangeably, and as a result, incorrectly.

HIV is a virus, the human immunodeficiency virus, one of the most persistent and complicated viruses of all time.

This virus causes the body to become immunodeficient, which means that it causes the body’s immune system to be weakened, which makes the body’s defense system not work as well as it could and as a result, become more susceptible to infections.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS is a result of HIV. It is the last stage of an HIV infection.

A person first gets HIV, and then later, usually years later, will develop AIDS.

A CD4 cell is a type of white blood cell sometimes called a T cell. A person is diagnosed as having AIDS when his or her CD4 cell count drops below a certain level, around 300 cells per millimeters cubed (mm3). The normal range is between 500-1,600 CD4 cells per mm3.

Over time, a person with HIV will lose these cells through destruction by HIV. Then that person will be more vulnerable to infections … opportunistic infections.

Without treatment, the opportunistic infections will eventually claim the life of a person infected with HIV. But treatment is available and it is called ART, which stands for antiretroviral therapy.

Because of the advent of ART, those who once were hopeless and waiting to die now have a second chance. But really why should we care about AIDS?

Why Should We Care About AIDS?

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t view us, the Body of Christ, as people who respond indiscriminately to such a disease.

Jesus healed the blind and lepers and never stopped to judge them or think that they had been cursed. He cared about people … all people, and through the words of Matthew 25 or 1 John 3:16-18, encourages us to do the same.

Jesus speaks of seeing the needs of others and moving beyond this to care for others and their needs … except for those with HIV and AIDS. Right?

No. He meant that we should meet the needs of all those we encounter, whether the needs are physical, emotional or spiritual.

I see the words of these passages as a direct command to jump in, feet first, to the situations we encounter, and in this day and age, there are more than 33 million people in the world living with HIV, some with AIDS. They are battling daily to fight the emotional toll of this disease and the discrimination that comes with it.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to help. And because ART is available, the once-grim prognosis of someone with AIDS is now one of hope.

And because of how Compassion works, we fill in the gaps of care that the government is unable to commit to. By doing so we give great hope to those who a few years ago would have felt very lost and very discouraged.

People who die of AIDS often die in a similar manner as those with cancer, but without the support of loved ones, friends and the community.

AIDS is real, and though there are many more diseases in our age that are also very important to address, this one presents challenges that few can rival.

From the biochemistry and immunology of the virus to the stigma and discrimination that those infected face, HIV and AIDS need attention on all levels … but mostly in the willingness of Christians to live up to the book that we all follow.

This is our chance. The virus has been around for more than 25 years. Let’s be aware, care and dare to make a difference.

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  1. Nov 23, 2009
    at 5:59 pm

    Hi, Amy,

    That’s a great article!

    I got a little bit of a technical question. You mentioned how AIDS is defined by number of CD4 cells per cubic mm dropping below 500.

    Is it possible for this to happen without a person having gotten HIV infected first? Or is the only way that this has ever happened through HIV infection?

    Blessings,

    Kees

  2. Nov 24, 2009
    at 1:02 am

    Hey this is really meaningful. Giving certain facts n information without making it sound like a science class. You think I can use this to spread the message?? Whom do I need to contact to get information.

  3. [...] Why should we care about AIDS? from Compassion International [...]

  4. Nov 24, 2009
    at 9:52 am

    Anurag,

    Feel free to reference the blog post.

    What sort of information are you looking for?

  5. Natasha
    Nov 24, 2009
    at 10:09 am

    This is one of the best informational pieces on HIV/AIDS I have ever read. Thank you!

  6. JoAnn Metzger
    Nov 24, 2009
    at 1:02 pm

    Great job Amy. I am proud of you as always!

  7. Amy
    Nov 24, 2009
    at 2:23 pm

    Hello Kees!
    Thank you so much for your feedback. You’ve asked a great question. A decline is CD4 count is often attributed to a progressive HIV infection resulting in AIDS, but not always. Stress and other infections can also cause this. Does that help?
    Amy

  8. Nov 24, 2009
    at 3:22 pm

    Hi, Amy,

    Now, I have two other questions based on that.

    So, could somebody get AIDS through stress or another infection?

    If not, could AIDS be misdiagnosed, that they think it is AIDS, but really, the real problem is stress or some other infection.

    Thanks for helping me understand this.

  9. Anurag
    Nov 24, 2009
    at 10:26 pm

    @Chris
    I work at a Compassion Country office. This write-up is good for sending to projects so that the children as well as the partners can observe Dec 1st more meaningfully. Do let me know…
    God bless :)

  10. Frank Obonyo PF CI-UG
    Nov 25, 2009
    at 12:32 am

    Hi Amy, this is such a challenging well written piece and so simple to understand. I have forwarded it to all ICPs I facilitate.

  11. Nov 25, 2009
    at 10:10 am

    Anurag,

    Yes. Please use the post as you like.

  12. Melissa
    Nov 25, 2009
    at 10:59 am

    Kees, I’m not Amy, but I’ll take a stab at your questions.

    A CD4 count low enough to be defined as AIDS is highly unlikely to be caused by anything but HIV infection/AIDS. The other causes would usually be obvious (deliberate immune suppression for organ transplant, etc). There are very rare congenital conditions that cause someone to be born without being able to produce CD4 cells properly, but these children usually die very young (think the boy in the bubble).

    The scientific literature does refer to a condition that I can’t remember the exact name of now, but is something like idiopathic CD4 lymphopenia (CD4 cell loss of unknown cause), but these cases were largely described when HIV testing was not either non-existent or not as sensitive as it is today and I think that most people believe that these were undiagnosed AIDS cases.

    In the US at least, AIDS diagnosis requires the presence of antibodies to HIV (that gives you HIV+ status). HIV+ status is always confirmed with a second different test if the screening test comes up positive, so false positives are pretty rare. After someone is known positive, both viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) and the number of CD4+ cells are tracked to follow disease progression. I assume in Compassion assisted countries, there are fewer resources for this kind of surveillance, so I’m not sure how these children are diagnosed or their disease progression is tracked.

  13. Amy
    Nov 25, 2009
    at 12:44 pm

    Hi Kees-
    Thanks again for your questions. You point out something that I did not make clear enough in the writing. I apologize. To be diagnosed with AIDS, one must first be diagnosed as having an HIV infection. A person with an HIV infection can then be classified as having AIDS if the CD4 cells drop below around 300 cells/mm3 or if other designated clinical signs are present. On rare occasions, there are other things that can cause the CD4 cells to stay low and this may have the same effect as it does on a person with AIDS…that is, their immune system is compromised and more susceptible to infection. Thanks again. Let me know if this helps!
    Amy

  14. Amy
    Nov 25, 2009
    at 2:53 pm

    Thanks Melissa!

    Great response!

    Yes, that term you shared is correct…idiopathic CD4 lymphopenia and I agree with your other thoughts on causes of a low CD4 count.

    The children, parents and caregivers in our programs have access to the tests that they need..though not always the viral load tests as that technology is sometimes harder to access in rural locations. Thanks to you both for the good dialogue. And for other feedback…Frank, Natasha, Anurag and Jo Ann!

    Amy

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