By Veda Nadendla:
According a World Bank report, as of 2011, an estimated 2.40 million Indian adults are living under the clutches of HIV. After the first ever case of AIDS in India was reported in 1986, the Government established National AIDS Control Program (NACP) which has developed into The Department of AIDS under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Over the years the NACP has meted out AIDS prevention and awareness programs in three phases. During its first phase, 1992-1999, the primary focus was on increasing awareness about HIV and AIDS among the high risk population. Professional blood donations were banned by the Government and screening of donated blood was nearly universal by the end of this phase. During its second phase, 1999-2006, the NACP dispersed itself into the states with emphasis on interventions for high risk populations, preventive care for general population and increasing NGO involvement in carrying the word out there. Monitoring and controlling became a cause for concern. Despite the increase in awareness and interventions towards HIV/AIDS over the third phase, there was a realization that there is a need for more. Through the fourth phase the Government seeks to encourage and improve AIDS awareness, intervention, prevention, medication and control through participation of NGOs.
Increase what we may; we as a nation still lack the basic understanding of HIV/AIDS. We are still living in a world of half knowledge and assumptions, word of mouth and stigma which will prove most harmful in our fight against AIDS. If only we understood, and accepted reality as it is, we would throw caution to the wind, we would know the truth and we would be able to share it to enlighten others, we would be able to keep ourselves safe, and respect the dignity of the people who are positive. Here are some realities about HIV/AIDS that you and I must know as a citizen of this nation.
The Human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV, is known to cause AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome. An AIDS diagnosed person’s immune system is weakened by the HIV virus to the extent that they may contract diseases which are uncommon to a person with a healthy immune system.
AIDS is not always the end result of an infection of the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV positive people can be treated with effective medication to slow down the progression of the disease and stop the development of AIDS. So, a person who is HIV positive should not ignore or lax medication because strictly following the medication prescribed can be the best way of protecting themselves from fast progressing symptoms of HIV and an AIDS diagnosis.
When mosquitoes bite and suck the blood of one person, they do not inject that blood into another person they bite. There is no proof of transmission of HIV through mosquitoes even in areas where there are HIV infected people and lots of mosquitoes.
The strains of HIV can spread through unhygienic and unsafe use of needles which can happen at hospitals, tattoo parlours and with individuals who share needles when taking intravenous drugs. Further, the breast milk of a HIV positive mother can carry HIV to her newborn, when fed unknowingly. Also, very rarely, HIV can be contracted through deep, open-mouth kissing if the HIV positive person has bleeding gums or sores.
All hope is not lost. People who are HIV positive can most definitely have children, but with the help of preventive and control interventions. The risk of the child contracting AIDS is less than 2%, as is the risk of other genetic diseases and disorders. Firstly, if you are positive, keep your doctor informed so that he/she can protect you and your baby. In the case of a father who is HIV positive, a procedure called ‘sperm washing’ can be done, i.e., separating the genetic material from the sperm after which the woman is impregnated using in vitro fertilization. Pregnant mothers who are HIV positive should take anti retroviral medication during the pregnancy, have a caesarian section and avoid breastfeeding the baby.
Being HIV positive does not mean a miserable life and an imminent death. I have HIV positive friends who with the help of regular and effective medication, better lifestyle choices and family plus workplace support, have prolonged their life. Especially for people who are diagnosed early, the anti retroviral medication helps them lead a relatively normal and longer life.
If you think that you can spot an HIV positive person with ease, you are wrong. Do not discriminate because HIV/AIDS can affect anyone. In rare cases, this person does not necessarily have to be sexually active to be affected. As with the most abundant cases of AIDS in India, this person could have contracted HIV through sexual contact, they don’t necessarily have to be a prostitute. Shameful yet common stigma goes that gay people and drug abusers are AIDS patients. I implore you to put aside your differences because HIV positive people are none other than fellow humans who are in pain. They need your support, not your judgement.
There aren’t too many ways of saying this so I’ll say it the best way possible- safe sex is the best sex. Not only does it protect from unexpected pregnancies and STDs but it is also one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of HIV. If protection is worn during sexual intercourse as well as oral sex, HIV will not be transmitted. Even if the condom tears, there is medication available which if taken within 24 hours will prevent the spread of HIV. It is important to be aware of your sexual health and the sexual health of your partner.
Yes, this young man wrote Genocide, because around the time when the first AIDS case was reported in Africa in the early 1980s, people believed that it was a ploy to wipe out the Black people. Since the epidemic left thousands of people dead in its wake with no cure to fall back on, the African people believed that it was an engineered ploy to bring an end to their population. There is still a minority in the population which held the belief until as recently as 2005, according to a study conducted by the Rand Corporation. AIDS is not genocide but ignorance definitely is. Being responsible and mature about AIDS is important in bringing about a positive mindset and preventing the spread of AIDS. It is important to improve self-awareness and practice safe sex, to not discriminate but appreciate and understand.
The disease can only be contracted through exchange of blood, semen or breast milk and NOT through sweat, saliva and touching. HIV positive people are just that, people, suffering from a disease because of unfortunate choices or circumstances. We live in a post modern society and it is time to let go of ancient stigma and treat these people as one of us. What are the actual chances of getting hiv; We cannot catch HIV by
– Breathing the same air as an HIV+ person
– Hugging, kissing or shaking hands with an HIV+ person
– Using the toilet seat, or touching surfaces touched by an HIV + person
– Sharing food with someone who is HIV+
Why should they suffer judgement and discrimination when we can share our emotions with a person suffering from typhoid or cancer? Being accepted into society without judgement and blame is often the most difficult part of the life of someone who is HIV positive or diagnosed with AIDS. Support from friends, family and colleagues at work is the best way to improve the quality of life of this person, because they will feel loved, motivated and encouraged to prolong their own life.
Talk to your parents, your partner, your doctor or your friends; talk to them about HIV and about STDs. Talk to your school about the importance of sexual health awareness and accurate medical information about sexual health for young adults. Speak up because when you do, you’re breaking stereotypes and making it easier to discuss sexual health. It is your responsibility to yourself as an individual and your duty as a citizen of a developing nation.