Wednesday, January 2, 2013

AIDS Mathematics: A Formula Describing the Urgency of Doing Something About AIDS

AIDS Mathematics: A Formula Describing the Urgency of Doing Something About AIDS

Who's afraid of math formulas? As I've discovered, a lot of people are afraid of math. That's maybe because some individuals cannot really grasp its tremendous abilities. A very long time ago, I was heading on that same path myself. But then, still a very long time ago, I've become what some call "a math person" thanks to a hand-full of teachers and professors I've had along the way.

Afraid or not of it, I believe that we should embrace mathematics, because it is present in almost each aspect of our lives. Through formulas and graphs, mathematics has the power to capture our past, present and future, our world here on earth and the outer space. Math, together with other sciences, can do wonders, in many ways.  In other words, mathematics is an intrinsic part of our everyday life.

But can math describe an epidemic?

The answer is yes. Recently I've read (and also reviewed) a fantastic book that takes a scientific (and also human) look at the AIDS pandemic and mentions a mathematical model of a pandemic. The formula says that the rate (the speed with which the disease can spread) of the epidemic is determined by the virulence (measuring how contagious/infectious the virus is), the number of contacts (measured per infected person, per day), and time (that is, the number of days someone is infectious). "Infectious" refers to an individual who can spread the virus to other individual(s). If the rate is less than one, the outbreak will die out. If the rate is one, the disease will become an epidemic. If the rate is more than one, the disease will become an epidemic/pandemic on the loose.

More complicated formulas describing the potential of an infectious disease to become an epidemic or world pandemic include a mathematical model of an epidemic.

While there has been a lot of talk lately about "getting to zero" (HIV infections), finding an AIDS cure and (maybe virtually?) eliminating HIV altogether, here are a few HIV/AIDS statistics so far, to grasp today's reality when it comes to HIV/AIDS and the work that is still needed to be done:

AIDS Day 2012 statistics shared by We Make the Change
AIDS Day 2012 statistics shared by We Make the Change

And also:

HIV/AIDS statistics shared by We Make the Change
HIV/AIDS statistics shared by We Make the Change

Here's also my review of No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses, by Peter Piot, originally published in Art & Understanding Magazine.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS
Featuring Images by Award Winning Photographer Kurt Weston

No Time to Lose
A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses

by Peter Piot, with Ruth Marchall

W.W. Norton & Company
(originally published in A&U Magazine)

How does one define an epidemic? Scientists use formulas. Patients count the days they’ve stayed alive. Caregivers and medical professionals working in the trenches of the epidemic measure it in lives saved and lost, while trying to grasp its reality. Healthcare insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and politicians look beyond the related despair and death, some for possible solutions, others for profit.

Who can better define an epidemic than someone who has spent a lifetime studying it, understanding it, and trying to save lives? Dr. Peter Piot is someone who has dedicated his life to making a difference in the global AIDS pandemic. No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses is an autobiographical account of Piot’s life in which AIDS is the main character. Piot’s story starts with his years working as a young doctor in African jungles, while studying the Ebola virus, and then his first encounter with HIV. It continues with his work as a scientist, culminating with his role in the global AIDS pandemic as the founder (in 1996) and first executive director (until 2008) of UNAIDS.

Piot calls AIDS exceptional, because it’s global, spares no countries and affects young adult individuals who, if not for AIDS, would not die so early, while bringing out in the spotlight behaviors disapproved by society. He quotes Louis Pasteur, who once said, “Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word,” and leaves readers pondering if that is still true, even nowadays, in a time defined by unprecedented scientific and technological progress and discoveries.

In No Time to Lose, Piot offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the AIDS pandemic from someone who has fought the fight against AIDS from the very beginning. The read challenges the mind, offering a comprehensive understanding of AIDS as an epidemic in itself, as much as an epidemic among other epidemics. No Time to Lose delivers the information readers need to achieve a more profound level of understanding of the pandemic and, with that, of AIDS’ impact on mankind.

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