By Alok Panda:
Acquired immune Deficiency Syndrome- AIDS, one of the world’s most dreaded diseases, and a pandemic associated with increasing social stigma and economic burden has been in news recently. The disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), severely compromises the immune system of the patient and has consumed some 30 million lives since its emergence in the eighties, according to the UN data (2009). Not only does the disease degrade the health of a person, but the mental trauma, social stigma and economic burden associated with expensive treatment of the disease further complicates the issue and calls for the urgent need for its eradication.
The recent news of a baby girl from Mississippi who was born infected with HIV, transmitted to her from her mother and was subsequently declared cured after following the standard Anti-Retro-viral treatment, is highly welcoming news and may represent a breakthrough in the treatment of this deadly disease. Although, this isn’t the first documented case of complete cure of HIV, which was achieved in an adult in Germany through bone marrow transplant, each such case increases our confidence and faith that this deadly virus which has since destroyed several lives can definitely be overcome. These cases represent the war we have won, however the battle remains to be fought courageously.
For one thing, the battle against HIV/AIDS has to be fought from several fronts. As from the medical front, currently the best treatment available against AIDS is the use of Anti-Retro Viral (ARV) drugs. These drugs target the virus during various stages of its life cycle, thereby slowing their takeover of the cells of the Immune system. However, these drugs are quite expensive and can have severe side effects, although they have been documented to increase the life expectancy. Until an effective cure for the disease comes out, it is expected that the availability of the ARV’s be made to everyone who has the infection and further steps should be taken to ensure their mass production and to prevent the selected pharma companies to make a cash-cow out of them i.e. marketing them as generic drugs. The role of the people’s representatives i.e. the Government becomes crucial in this regard. These steps will at least lead to lessening the mental burden of the already suffering infected persons.
Further, it is said that “Prevention is better than Cure”. The best front to fight the disease comes from preventing it. The modes of transmission and the science of viral transmission is quite well known for some time, therefore, it remains an utmost priority to disseminate the information. It is said that “knowledge is power” which cannot be truer in the case of HIV prevention. The role of sex education to young adults and to vulnerable population (sex workers, men having sex with men) becomes much important in this case, as unsafe sexual contact- both heterosexual and homosexual is the leading causes of the infection. Not only education, but promotion of safe sex practices such as the use of condoms, their proper usage, promotion of monogamous relationships, information regarding the risks of intravenous Drug usage etc. will go a long way to address the situation.
Next comes the Social stigma associated with the disease. Dissemination of information is crucial in this regard too. First of all it has to be brought into the knowledge of people that HIV isn’t a communicable disease, so the general outcast of people suffering from the infection is no less than discrimination. Talking of discrimination, the social stigma associated particularly with the Gay and Transgender community needs to be addressed, as person belonging to these community form a significant chunk suffering from the infection. Although diversity in sexual orientation needs to be protected and equal rights given, but even if this is not done, at-least decriminalization of the acts needs to be promulgated and people belonging to the community made comfortable, so that it becomes easier for both the health practitioners as well for the concerned individuals to seek information for their problems and get treatment. Furthermore, religious doctrine of certain religions as Islam and Christianity, stipulating the non-use of contraceptives, particularly the use of condoms as unnatural, needs to be addressed. This becomes particularly essential in case of Africa, where AIDS has reached epidemic proportions. Although difficult, it will definitely pay off in the long run to take the religious leaders into confidence in reducing new HIV infection cases.
Even though we have won few wars against the monster virus, the battle isn’t over yet. It is in our own wisdom to eradicate this disease and make life a bit easy for all of us.