The transmission of this virus was initially considered as an aftereffect of homosexual relations and it also enters into the blood by sharing common needles for injecting drugs, through blood transfusion, through sexual relations with an already infected person or passed on from an infected mother to the child. HIV is a slow acting virus that typically lies dormant or takes years to produce illness in an infected person. This is in sharp contrast to most viruses which cause diseases in a matter of days or weeks. Over the decade or so during which an HIV-positive persons immunity defenses get gradually eroded, various pathogens in the advantage of this weakness to attack and cause illness of and on. This is why infections and cancers seen in HIV-positive individuals are called ‘opportunistic’.
There are several treatments and therapies for the cure of these opportunistic meladies and for relief of symptoms associated with them including fever, coughing, itching, asthamatic tendencies, choking of gullet or chronic diarrhea. Other drugs developed more recently attack HIV itself, so called retrovirus, which explains why these new drugs are called ‘antiretroviral’.
As the problem of HIV/AIDS acquired new dimension, greater proportions and versatile strategies to infect and affect those falling prey to it, the task to contain the virus spreading the dreaded message becomes even more alarming and challenging. The provision of information and education has become the buzz word and a major weapon against the disease and a way of encouraging appropriate reactions to it.
The crisis is of alarming proportions and its impact is becoming increasingly devastating but the efforts by countries and communities by rallying to react to the damage are really commendable. They have been positive in their efforts to counter some of its worst impacts. The XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain is one such important step.
It is a matter of serious concern that AIDS has affected millions of persons in our country. This issue is quite different from other health issues as the prime targets are the younger generation, who are in prime productive age and also the pillars of society and family. The stigma and discrimination usually associated with AIDS adds to it the dimension of a difficult social issue. Thus the prevention and control of AIDS presents a unique challenge.
In India, the first case of AIDS was detected in 1986. since then HIV infections have been reported in all states. The second decade of the epidemic has been marked by heterogeneity, shifting focus from the population at high risk to the clients of flesh trade, STD patients and partners of drug users and to the general population through transfusion of affected blood. As is well known, AIDS mainly affects people in the sexually active age group. The majority of the patients are in the 15-44 age groups.
In had started off with homosexuality but not the predominant mode of transmission of infection is through heterosexual contact followed b y blood transfusion and blood product infusion, syringes and piercing instruments. The lowest percentage of transmission is from mother to child.
People living with AIDS are just like any one else apart from the fact that they are infected with specific virus. AIDS cannot be transmitted by touching, fonding, living together in the same house and sharing food, clothes and toilets or even through mosquito bites. There is an urgent need to breakthrough ignorance, denial, fear and intolerance of AIDS. There is no need to reject or isolate people living with the virus but unfortunately even Doctors and para-medical staff are in the forefront of such ignorant attitude in our country.
The environment of stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV positive persons discourages them from getting tested and treated. The current need is to encourage people to come forward voluntarily to ascertain their HIV status. This would give positive results and help reduce further transmission besides ensuring care and support for those infected. They should be treated with more love and care as they need the strength especially mental to understand that they are one amongst us except for the fact that their immune system has been damaged beyond repair.
It is also imperative and mandatory that they are not subjected to the sort of language that promotes discrimination or suggests that HIV is a death sentence and those affected cannot lead to positive life.
Language is power and hence its proper use is very important. It should be used wisely and responsibly in such cases to shred away stigma and discrimination.
World AIDS Day emerged from the call by world summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention in January 1988, to provide a common platform for those falling prey to this vulnerable malady and to open channels of communication for the exchange of ideas, information and experience. To infuse a spirit of solidarity and tolerance for those fighting a lone battle and also to awaken the society and its members to take concrete measures, to contain the inexorable speed of the virus.
Unfortunately any test, treatment or medication of this fearful disease is very expensive and beyond the reach of the common man. Without medication the chances of prolonging life plummets to the minimal. The initial drugs are less expensive but as the patient soon stops responding to them, the medicines keep upgraded and more expensive. There are specialized blood tests to be done every few months to check the progress of the virus and of course the cost of a good diet and nutrition. Add to these the loss of salary or income due to absence when the patients fall ill and the expenses of the doctor as well as commuting.
HIV positive lives are lonely lives, etched out in the darkest secrecy today, with feat as the constant companion. Fear of being thrown out of homes and jobs, fear of being isolated in business with customers shirking away. Fear of having their offsprings stigmatized, of dying and leaving behind a family that will have to fend for itself. Fear, fear and fear which can only be overcome by overwhelming love. Are we up to it?