The year is closing on a rough note with the tragic terror attacks in Beirut and Paris and the heavy downpour that lashed our Chennai people. With few days still to go, I now wake up praying, ‘No more mourning morning’.
This evening while catching up with season’s last discounts my eyes fell on a hoarding that authorities put up this AIDS day. Reminded me of the last month when while scrolling down the Facebook news feeds I came across- ”Reports: Charlie Sheen HIV Positive“. Further scrolling down had more of Charlie Sheen. The incident was a live example of how our awareness is lagging behind time. Biasedly clicking on one of the links opened the Pandora’s Box. The actor was diagnosed HIV positive four years ago. My greatest sympathies go to him. But what hit me hard was he paid hefty amounts to people to keep the news under wraps and still continued to engage with sex workers risking their lives too. He reminds me of the age-old HIV-AIDS stigma that still lingers in our society after thirty years, when the first cases of immunodeficiency virus HIV were recognised.
The dreadful virus gradually destroys the immune system by destroying the T-helper cells (a type of white blood cells). Firstly, T-helper cells (also referred as CD4 cells) release certain chemical substance that attracts other white blood cells (WBCs) to the infected area. Secondly, they release chemicals that help the WBCs to multiply which the rate the recuperation on the site of infection. These new WBCs create antibodies which attach itself to bacteria/virus/fungi for WBCs to identify and kill them. But when a body is attacked by HIV, the virus multiplies inside body targeting the T-helper cells itself and hell breaks loose. The infected T cells damage other cells. So basically the cells, which protect us from any infection caused by foreign bodies, lose their ability to protect the body. The infections gulping our body at that time are called Opportunistic Infections (OIs). To name a few we have meningitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancers, and lymphoma.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has prepared a list 20 OIs which are also ‘AIDS- defining conditions’. So if someone has HIV and is infected by one or more OIs, the person will be diagnosed with AIDS.
Humans first acquired HIV with blood contact with apes and gradually the disease got transmitted to more people through unprotected sex, used syringes, childbirth, breastfeeding. The virus can only stay alive in a fluid medium. So the transmission of virus through touch is overruled. Still, there are some myths regarding the disease that circles our society. The epidemic created such a cloud of fear that there still exist people who outcast HIV/AIDS infected and mistreat them. Even some hospitals and doctors are reluctant to treat people with HIV. In our land of laws, when it comes to HIV/AIDS infected people there is yet no specific law to curb the discrimination. But articles 14, 15, 16 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which deal with basic fundamental rights, protect those infected with the disease to a large extent.
As of now, HIV/AIDS is not curable, but by starting treatment at an early stage keeps the virus from multiplying and destroying the T-cells. But we do have anti-retroviral therapy which can help increase T-cells and protect from OIs, thereby delaying AIDS.
India houses 2.1 million people living with HIV that makes it third-largest in the world. Nationally, there are more men than women as HIV positive. But on a positive note, more and more volunteers are coming up to join the various awareness and welfare programs organized by the Indian Red Cross and various NGOs. It is important for the society to know how the deadly virus affects our body. Even our infinitesimal support can give them the courage to face the world and speak what they experience. They should be encouraged to speak their HIV status and not keep it in a veil. They should not miss out on basic amenities or be bullied or kept isolated. Let’s not make their battle rockier. This New Year let’s resolute to be the stigma buster.