Roberta Heale Associate Editor EBN, @EBNursingBMJ; @robertaheale
Tuesday, December 1 is World Aids Day and the theme this year is ‘The Time To Act Is Now.” Before I concentrate on the present, I find myself reflecting on the past. It’s difficult to remember a world without HIV and AIDS. I do remember the panic in the early years when the destruction that this horrible illness brought had managed to reach the small town where I grew up in northern, Ontario Canada. Coming of age in the 1980’s was far more ominous than the generation prior with their slogan of ‘free love’. Yet, my experience was inconsequential compared to the agony of gay communities at the time. As a nursing student I witnessed first hand the devastation in the lives of gay men. I briefly cared for a young man dying of AIDS in my last year of nursing school, an experience that shook my young naïve self to the core. I then worked on a medical floor in my first year of nursing with a patient load that included men with HIV/AIDS. These men dutifully received massive doses of medication, with horrible side effects, that made no real difference to their illness. The demeanor of the men ranged from calm and introspective to angry and restless. Regardless of their coping strategy, the one defining characteristic that they all shared was that they were vibrant beings who were dying far before they should have.
The dedication and passion of gay communities was instrumental in advocating for the development of drug cocktails that stopped HIV from developing to AIDS. It seemed that as quickly as the HIV/AIDS became an integral part of our lives that it fell below the radar. Of course, the illness is still as devastating, but the worst of the blight is on other continents and more easily pushed out our consciousness. Yet, the time to act IS now. Providing care for people with HIV/AIDS anywhere in the world is to care for the most vulnerable and goes far beyond simply ensuring that there are adequate supplies of medication. Comprehensive programs should include support for childcare, food, housing and more. Prevention of HIV/AIDS goes hand-in-hand with prevention of other STIs as well as the establishment of self-respect and empowerment; important concepts for everyone, everywhere.
The challenge is not only to act now, but to continue to act and to integrate HIV/AIDs awareness and prevention into all aspects of healthcare. A great deal has been accomplished in thirty years time, but there is far more work to be done. Let’s act together and get the job done.