Who Has AIDS? Think Again


S.P. is a 23-year-old Hispanic woman, who tested positive for HIV, the virus associated with AIDS. She applied for Social Security disability benefits when she was no longer able to work due to weight loss and increasingly painful episodes of pelvic inflammatory disease and and nausea.

Despite two hospitalizations for pelvic inflammation, continued symptoms and evidence of a severely weakened immune system, S.P. was denied benefits. According to the standards of the Social Security Administration, she does not have AIDS.

What is AIDS? Since today is World Aids Day, it is most appropriate reexamine this question.

According to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, which are followed by the Social Security Administration, a person can be diagnosed with AIDS only after developing at least one of the opportunistic infections listed by the CDC as AIDS-defining. But not all people with HIV develop those particular infections and, therefore, they are not diagnosed with AIDS.

What the CDC definition fails to acknowledge is that HIV manifests itself differently in different populations. Women, for whom AIDS is now the leading cause of death in certain age groups in New York City, often develop serious gynecological problems that are HIV-related, including pelvic inflammatory disease and refractory vaginal candidiasis, a painful infection. These conditions are often disabling and recurring. Yet, because they do not fit into the CDC definition, the women who develop them are ineligible for AIDS benefits and services.

Read full article here.

David Barr – New York Times – Dec. 1, 1990.

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