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7 Myths You Need To Stop Believing about HIV/AIDS

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By MSF INDIA:

1. HIV Is A Death Sentence

Wrong

If you’re looking for a good news story on global health, the fight against HIV/AIDS is a big one.

HIV/AIDS is the deadliest pandemic in recent history: it has killed twice as many people as the first World War. But the progress made in a mere 30 years against the disease has been spectacular. Today, someone who takes antiretroviral (ARV) drugs every day has a very low risk of developing AIDS and can live a long and fulfilling life.

…but also, unfortunately, right…

If you’re unlucky enough to live in a place with poor access to lifesaving ARV. Over 75% of the people living with HIV in West and Central Africa – 5 million people – are not on ARV treatment and therefore condemned to a slow, painful, and unnecessary death. The situation is even worse for the 730,000 HIV-infected children in the region: 90% don’t have access to ARVs. Urgent action is needed to change this situation.

Please refer to photo MSF160862 MSF working with a local theatre group to inform the community of the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Their play follows the story of a group of friends who transmit the virus between each other through unsafe sex and sharing a bloodied razor.
Credit: Rob Verrecchia/MSF.

2. HIV Mostly Affects Gay Men

Wrong

In fact, the face of HIV globally today is a young woman. 59% of people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa are women. In South Africa, girls aged 15-19 are as much as eight times more at risk of HIV infection than their male counterparts.

It’s true that men who have sex with men are disproportionally affected by the pandemic. It’s also the case for sex workers or injectable drug users. This is the reason why the United Nations’ plan to combat HIV/AIDS puts a lot of emphasis on these most-at-risk groups. But still, 45% of all children who are born with the virus come from West and Central Africa. Why? Because their moms did not have access to treatment.

3. You Cannot Have A Healthy Baby If You’re HIV Positive

Wrong

A pregnant HIV+ woman on optimal ARV treatment has less than 2% risk of transmitting the virus to her baby. This is fantastic news: thanks to ARVs, the number of children born with the virus worldwide has been cut by 60% since 2000 and last year Cuba became the first country to declare that it had completely eliminated mother-to-child HIV transmission.

But again, this victory depends on the availability of ARV treatment. In West and Central Africa, only 39% of HIV-positive pregnant women are on treatment. This is why the number of children born with the virus in this region is so disproportionately high: whereas West and Central Africa accounts for 17.9% of the total number of people living with HIV in the world, it records close to half of the births of HIV-infected children.

Those babies are born with a disease that could have been prevented. And it’s all the more dramatic that 90% of the HIV-positive babies in this region do not have access to paediatric HIV treatment either. Without treatment, about one-third of children living with HIV will not survive past their first birthday; half of them will not celebrate their second birthday and only one in five of these children will celebrate a fifth birthday.

West and Central African countries are in need of a quick and drastic catch up plan. WCA has 6% of the world population, but 17.9% of the people living with HIV It accounts for 27% of all Aids-related deaths, 21% of all new infections, and 45% of all children born HIV+ This is explained by a low coverage of ARVs. Only one in four adults are provided with treatment. There are 5 million people in this region alone that need ARVs, which represents 1/3 of UNAIDS' target to getting 15 million extra people on ARV drugs by 2020. The main HIV actors are calling for a drastic acceleration in the fight against HIV/Aids The world has five years to get the epidemic under control by reaching 90-90-90 by 2020 (90% PLHIV know their status, 90% of them initiated on treatment, 90% of them virally suppressed). If not, the epidemic will rebound by 2030 and the considerable investments made in the past 15 years will be lost.
Credit: Manon Brulé/MSF.

4. Using Condoms Is The Only Way To Avoid Infecting Your Partner Or Getting Infected By HIV

Wrong

For sure, using condoms is very effective in preventing HIV infection. But it’s not the only way.

Studies have shown that optimal treatment on ARV reduces the risk of transmitting the virus by 96% in couples in which one is HIV-positive. New drugs even allow HIV-negative people to be protected against infection.

Promoting the use of condoms is an important tool against HIV, but people need a combination of prevention tools to choose from, to fit best with their situation. Offering ARV treatment for all is a key component to put the HIV/AIDS pandemic under control, and therefore, it’s a huge problem that so few people – less than 1 in 4 – have access to treatment in West and Central Africa. Without treatment for all who need it, everywhere, the chances of bringing the global pandemic under control are very slim. This is why MSF is calling for an urgent, ambitious catch-up plan for countries with low coverage of ARVs.

HIV illustrations 3_JPEG
Credit: Manon Brulé/MSF.

5. The More HIV+ People In A Country, The More AIDS-Related Deaths

Wrong

South Africa has, by far, the largest number of people living with HIV (6.8 million), and AIDS still takes a staggering toll in the country with 140,000 deaths a year. But as staggering as it is, this number remains below Nigeria’s, which has half the number of HIV+ people. Can you guess why? Again, it’s simple: Nigerians have far less access to ARVs than South Africans (22% versus 45% coverage of ARV).

Credit: Corentin Fohlen/MSF.

Similarly, Guinea recorded roughly the same number of AIDS-related deaths in 2014 (3,800) as Swaziland (3,500). But Swaziland has twice the number of people living with the virus (210,000 versus 120,000) and the highest proportion of adults living with HIV worldwide (27.7%).

In short, in places where antiretroviral treatment is not widely accessible, people suffer and die proportionally more from HIV/AIDS.POSSIBLE ILLUSTRATION: video from Guinea (being produced) – stigma and difficult access to treatment

6. The Less HIV+ People In A Country, The Easier It Is To Fight The Disease

Wrong

Logic suggests that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where ‘only’ 1.2% of its population is living with HIV, would be better able to provide ARV daily treatment than Malawi. After all, both countries are relatively comparable on paper in terms of GDP per capita or human development index . Yet Malawi has managed to put 50% of its HIV-infected population on ARVs. The DRC, less than 25%.

Doesn’t make sense? Well, there are some explanations. If, as in the DRC, HIV is less visible in society, media and political agenda’s, it gets lost among many other health priorities. This is understandable. What is less understandable is the constant neglect by international actors of countries with high HIV prevalence like countries in West and Central Africa.

West and Central African countries are in need of a quick and drastic catch up plan. WCA has 6% of the world population, but 17.9% of the people living with HIV It accounts for 27% of all Aids-related deaths, 21% of all new infections, and 45% of all children born HIV+ This is explained by a low coverage of ARVs. Only one in four adults are provided with treatment. There are 5 million people in this region alone that need ARVs, which represents 1/3 of UNAIDS' target to getting 15 million extra people on ARV drugs by 2020. The main HIV actors are calling for a drastic acceleration in the fight against HIV/Aids The world has five years to get the epidemic under control by reaching 90-90-90 by 2020 (90% PLHIV know their status, 90% of them initiated on treatment, 90% of them virally suppressed). If not, the epidemic will rebound by 2030 and the considerable investments made in the past 15 years will be lost.
Credit: Manon Brulé/MSF.

7. Only Rich, Stable Countries Have The Capacity To Offer Lifelong, Daily Treatment

Wrong

This seems to make logical sense; after all, even health systems in rich countries are already under strain to provide treatment for a growing number of people with chronic conditions: diabetes, obesity, etc. So, imagine the situation in a country like Malawi that needs to provide daily HIV treatment for 10% of its adult population, even though it has six times fewer health workers than the bare minimum recommended by WHO.

In fact, the most noteworthy progress against HIV/AIDS has been achieved in resource-poor countries. In fact, the introduction of ARVs in the 2000s was the single most important factor in increasing life expectancy in Southern Africa.

MSF has even built experience over the years as to how to provide HIV care in conflict settings, for example in Yemen or CAR, to avoid making people double victims of both war and their HIV+ status. Continuing care is imperative even in the most challenging, unstable areas.

Just because a country has limited resources or a context is complicated or unstable doesn’t have to mean that people living with HIV cannot be provided with ARV treatment.

It is essential that none of us, anywhere, forget the most neglected victims of HIV/AIDS. For this reason, MSF is calling calls on donors, affected governments and UN agencies to develop and implement a fast-track plan to scale up life-saving antiretroviral treatment in countries where ARV coverage reaches less than one-third of the population, particularly in West and Central Africa.

The time is now.

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  1. Patrick Allison

    Good day to the house everyone i want to say a very big thanks to this great Dr.ojomo for helping me to cure my HIV/AIDS disease for several years ago that i was diagnosed of this terrible virus, i have be tolling for so long with this disastrous affection, i have gone to several places to get a cure but nothing happened, i was going through a website of sky rock when i saw a testimony of Dr ojomo how he has cured so many people of HIV/AIDS disease, i was very glad to find a solution to my disease but without wasting much time anymore i had to consult Dr ojomo on his email address:ojomospellcaster@gmail.com after consulting him through his email address i told him exactly what happen and he assured me that everything will be just fine after has prepare a herbal medicine for me that after 2 weeks of usage i will be totally cured, i obeyed his instruction thereafter he prepare a herbal medicine for me and sent it to me and just as he has promised me, i was totally cured after 2 weeks of usage, i tested myself in hospital and was confirmed negative,today i am overdose with happiness, thanks to the dr. ojomo for his tremendous help for my life, you can contact him today on his Mobile number or whatsapp him:+2349030535709 email him via:ojomospellcaster@gmail.com

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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