As the fight for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) continues, red ribbons continue to be displayed across the world.
Last Thursday, individuals across the globe, including at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, showed off their red ribbons in honor of World AIDS Day. Students at UWSP gathered for an awareness walk through campus to show support for those living with HIV/AIDS and to commemorate those who have died.
Guest speaker, Dr. Matt Reynolds of University of Wisconsin – Madison’s AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory, followed the walk with a presentation about the origin and development of HIV as well as prospects regarding a vaccination.
"HIV and AIDS are often used synonymously, but are actually two different things. HIV is the actual virus while AIDS is the final stages of the HIV infection that often leads to death," Reynolds said.
Lead by Example (LBE), a student volunteer organization to help the campus and community, put on the awareness event to give students the opportunity to show support and learn about HIV and AIDS.
"Our mission statement says to bring people together through service and awareness, so we took it upon ourselves to show how HIV and AIDS don’t only affect individuals all over the world, but also how it affects individuals in Wisconsin and Portage County," said Sayaka Schatzke, president of LBE.
Reynolds put the disease in perspective, noting that with 33 million people living in today’s world with HIV, approximately 6,300 of them are living in Wisconsin. In the 30 years since the AIDS outbreak began, over 30 million people have died and twice as many have been infected with HIV.
Thankfully, there is treatment for the disease to reduce the viral reproduction. Although the treatment makes the disease livable, it is not a cure. Reynolds explained the difficulty in finding a vaccine for the disease since the virus is always evolving and often turns into a retrovirus, meaning it becomes dormant. Once the cell becomes dormant, it becomes very difficult to see the difference between the HIV cell and a healthy cell.
"There are so many different types of HIV because the virus is constantly changing and mutating. With the many different viruses and the possibility of drug resistance, these treatments don’t always do the job, so while these treatments are great, an AIDS vaccine would be nice," Reynolds said.
To collect funds for the research of a cure, (Product)RED has been created with a goal to get rid of AIDS by the year 2015. With 1,000 babies born each day with HIV, (RED) wants to eliminate the transmission of the virus from the mother to the child and deliver an AIDS-free generation. To fight for an AIDS-free generation, stores such as Nike, Gap, Apple and Starbucks are partnering up with (RED) to raise profits. It’s as simple as purchasing a (RED) product to help find a cure.
Although a cure for the disease has yet to be discovered, scientists like Reynolds continue the struggle to find a vaccine to prevent infection and get rid of the red ribbon forever.