Celebrated every year on Dec 1 st, World AIDS Day was first celebrated in the year 1988 to bring attention to the HIV pandemic across the globe. Over the past three decades, it has become a major health concern.
But why is this disease so fearful? Why is it so difficult to beat? Why can’t we just put an end to it?
The words HIV and AIDS themselves strike fear in the hearts of many. Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the advanced stage of infection caused by Human Immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) which is a kind of Retrovirus, having the ability to insert its DNA into the host cell. The virus primarily affects the immune system rendering it weak and vulnerable to other diseases. The reason this disease is so stigmatized and feared is because of its mode of transmission. Transmitted primarily by sharing needles and unprotected sex, HIV is associated with promiscuous behaviour and drug abuse. The virus spreads from person to person by blood and other body fluids, however, it absolutely does not spread through touch, sweat or saliva. Blood transfusions are also a major route of transmission when blood from an infected person is given to another. In India, especially in the northern states, injectable drug use is a major cause of the epidemic.
The National AIDS Control Program (NACP) was introduced with the aim to contain the spread of HIV and create awareness regarding its spread.
The target communities were sex workers and drug users who were at the most risk of contracting the disease. The program aims at educating them about the prevention strategies, safe practices and monitoring of the disease.
HIV also takes a major toll on a person’s psychology. NACP also includes psychological counselling of the patient and the patients family. HIV positive patients are shunned and often mistreated by society. They are socially ostracized and aren’t allowed to possess normal jobs and lifestyle. HIV positive patients are denied treatments in hospitals and pregnant mothers are refused care due to their HIV status. This behaviour can be very damaging to the patient and can suffer major mental trauma. Children born with HIV find it especially tough, they frequently given up by their parents and grow in adoption centres.
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected AIDS patients worldwide. Since the immune system becomes extremely weak due to HIV, it becomes easier for such people to contract COVID-19. Though recent reports suggest that a well-balanced diet and proper medication can prevent the severity of the COVID-19 attack in HIV positive patients. However bacterial pneumonia poses an urgent threat of co-infection along with COVID-19. An active course of anti-retroviral therapy can be effective in controlling the proliferation of HIV in the body, but due to these uncertain times of COVID-19, it has become difficult for these patients to gain steady access to the treatment.
The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact, highlighting the importance of communities and how creating awareness can make a difference. HIV is a preventable disease and can it can be controlled by taking proper precautions. Since it is a sexually transmitted disease, sex education is of utmost importance and must be taught to young adults at an early age. An open conversation about sex and checking for sexually transmitted infections is the key to educating the public and reducing the fear surrounding the disease. Use of modern genomic technology such as CRISPR genome editing is a promising new avenue for the
treatment of this disease. But until then we continue to face one of the biggest public health challenges in modern history.
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