World AIDS Day 2017
Positive but Alive
In 2015 alone, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV globally and out of that number, 1.8 million were children. The majority of HIV infected people come from low- income countries. So far, 35 million people have died from HIV related causes including 1.1 million in 2015 alone, making it clear that HIV is still a global pandemic. Hence the need to continue creating awareness about this deadly virus.
The World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 as the first ever global health day. It aims at creating an opportunity for people all over the world to unite in the fight against HIV, support those living with the virus and also to remember those who have succumbed to HIV related illnesses.
What is AIDS?
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is preceded by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which is a virus that attacks the immune system of a person, causing it not to function as it is required to. A person then becomes vulnerable to viruses and bacteria thereby increasing their risk of infection(s). A person is said to have AIDS when his or her immune system has become too weak to fight diseases and the individual begins to have certain symptoms and diseases.
This year’s World AIDS Day’s theme is, “Right to Health” and this is definitely a global concern that is in line with the Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDG’s) goal number 3 that aims at ensuring that every human being has access to good health and their well- being is ensured; including people living with HIV/AIDS.
The World AIDS Day has come a long way in not just creating awareness on HIV but in turn, reducing the stigma that people living with HIV/AIDS went through. In the beginning, people who had HIV were wrongly perceived to be sexually immoral and people would not even want to go near them but now, with a better understanding of HIV/AIDS, its transmission, testing, prevention and much more, HIV/AIDS sufferers are treated better and their life expectancy has increased significantly.
Transmission of HIV
When the entire world was first getting to know what HIV was, most people knew sex as the only way to get the virus. There are so many myths about how HIV is transmitted but thanks to the information that has been made available, more people understand more about the virus.
Some of the incorrect myths about how a person can get HIV are:
- Through mosquito bites or other blood sucking insects
- Through the air
- Shaking hands
- Casual kissing
- Sharing a toilet
- Sharing towels
- Sharing cutlery
- Touching an infected person without unbroken skin
- Doing mouth to mouth resuscitation
How then does one get infected with HIV or transmit HIV?
By the following:
- Sexual Transmission: Having sex with an infected person without protection can leads to HIV transmission.
- Blood Transmission: Sharing sharp objects like needles or syringes. This explains why HIV infections are higher among people who use hard drugs. Medical practitioners can get HIV is they get pricked with needles that have the virus.
- Perinatal Transmission: A mother can transmit HIV to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. This is why all pregnant mothers should get tested so that if they have the virus they can take the necessary precautions to prevent their babies from getting infected with the virus.
- In very rare cases, HIV can be transmitted though:
- Blood transfusions or organ/ tissue transplants that have the virus. This is now rare because the risk is now known and blood, organs and tissue to be used for transfusions and transplants are first screened for the virus, so if you require to have any of these, ensure you are doing so at a reputable hospital or clinic with high safety standards.
- Kissing: The risk of contracting HIV through kissing is very rare unless both partners have sores in the mouth or bleeding gums that can cause blood to enter the bloodstream of the partner who is HIV-Negative. This is however very unlikely.
Symptoms of HIV/AIDS
HIV symptoms vary depending on the stage the virus has reached and AIDS is the last stage. The symptoms are as follows in every stage of the virus:
1. Acute HIV Infection: This stage develops 2-4 weeks after a person gets infected with the virus.
The symptoms in this stage can include the following:
- sore throat
- joint pain
- red rash
- sweating, especially at night
- unintentional weight loss
2. Chronic HIV Infection: This stage is also referred to as Asymptomatic HIV Infection or Clinical Latency. During this stage HIV multiplies in the body but not at high levels. Symptoms in this stage disappear but the virus continues to develop and damage the immune system and body organs. This process can take up to 10 years if one is not under medication to reduce the virus from reproducing.
3. AIDS: This is the final and severe stage of the infection when the immune system is completely damaged and unable to fight infections. In this stage the person with AIDS develops opportunistic infections which are infections that occur mostly in people with low immune systems.
Symptoms at this stage include:
- sweating at night
- swollen glands
- fever that lasts for weeks
- blurred vision
- shortness of breath
- loss of weight
- white spots on the tongue or mouth
- dry cough
- feeling tired all the time
When a person’s immune system is low, there are certain infections that one can get such as: Candidiasis of the esophagus, lungs, trachea or bronchi, Herpes, Tuberculosis, Lymphoma, Pneumonia, Wasting syndrome (loss of weight).
Blood tests are used. To know your HIV status, a small blood sample is taken and tested for the virus. At times, tests might show that a person is HIV negative, yet they are have the virus. This happens because once a person is infected with the virus, it can take 3 weeks to 6 months for the virus to be detectable. That is why it is important to get tested regularly, especially if you are at risk of infection.
HIV/AIDS has no cure. The treatment available is meant to slow down the rate at which the virus replicates and give the victim more time to live. This is done using antiretroviral drugs which increase the life expectancy among HIV victims and reduce the risk of transmission as well. As of 2016, 13.1 million lives were saved due to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). ARV drugs have a number of side effects, including: diarrhea, nausea, headache, fatigue, rashes on the skin and even changes in mood.
Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) can also be used for HIV treatment when it is given to a person exposed to the virus within 72 hours of exposure. It lasts for 4 weeks and has side effects like nausea, headache and diarrhea.
Unlike cancer (another global pandemic), the causes of HIV are known and we are therefore aware of how we can protect ourselves from contracting this deadly virus. The prevention methods are as follows:
- Consistently using the correct protection during sex; male or female condoms.
- Using Antiretroviral Drugs. This can reduce the risk of transmission by 96%.
- Using Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) which helps in preventing a person from getting HIV if the partner is HIV positive.
- Getting tested regularly to know your status and stay safe, and if you are positive, to ensure you protect others by making sure you do not increase their risk of getting infected.
- Not sharing needles because sharing needles can expose you to HIV and other viruses such as Hepatitis B.
- Avoiding exposure to body fluids that may contain HIV, especially in the work environment, by wearing gloves for example if you are a medic.
- Education: Creating awareness about the virus to help people protect themselves against it.
1. The first step to managing this virus is through acceptance. Once a person stops living in denial and accepts their status then they can live a positive life and stay committed to their treatment.
2. Take precautions to protect yourself from other infections such as other sexually transmitted diseases by using protection during sex.
3. Eat a healthy diet; more fruits and vegetables, etc.
4. Have regular visits to the doctor to monitor the condition.
Internationally, HIV/AIDS is almost being forgotten owing to the fact that there are other pressing health issues like cancer. However, we must not forget the fight against this deadly virus. We must not forget to continue supporting those that are living with it. AIDS continues to be the leading cause of teenage deaths globally, with most young people being more afraid of getting pregnant than they are of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Therefore, it is crucial to keep pushing forward the fight against HIV/AIDS.
To recognise this day, International Medical Treatment (IMT), wanted to share this information with you, on World AIDS Day, and contribute to the fight against HIV.We unfortunately may not offer treatments for HIV/AIDS, but we appreciate the power of information and education.
Get yourself tested today, know your status, and protect the ones you love.
Remember that HIV is not a death sentence. You can still live a long life and achieve your dreams despite having HIV.
The data in this article has been collected from the following sources:
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