Md. Rakibul Islam
Now the world’s attention has been focused by the COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods. Many people are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members.
People have been physically distanced from their support networks and many are grieving the death of loved ones. COVID-19 is showing once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth but we forget another disease that previously present in the world as a hidden killer, its name is Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Over 103,800 people are living with HIV in the UK. Globally, there are an estimated 38 million people who have the virus. According to the aidsdatahub.org 2019 report 14000 people living with HIV, 3045 people on ART, 580 AIDS related death and 1600 are new cases diagnosed in Bangladesh.
Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “Health is a human right. Health must be a top investment priority to achieve universal health coverage. On this World AIDS Day let us recognize that, to overcome COVID-19 and end AIDS, the world must stand in solidarity and share responsibility.”
What is AIDS/HIV?
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a term that applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. According to The World health organization (WHO), “The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) targets cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, which help the body respond to infection. Within the CD4 cell the HIV replicates and in turn damages and destroys the cell without effective treatment, using a combination of antiretroviral drugs, the immune system will become weakened to the point that it can no longer fight infection and disease. “Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a term that applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection.
What is World AIDS day?
World AIDS Day takes place every year on 1st December bringing the world together under a single theme to raise awareness of the global burden of viral AIDS/HIV and to influence real change. Consistently the World AIDS Day is seen around a topic. The 2020 theme is “Global solidarity, resilient HIV services’’. The day aims to support victims suffering from the disease, arranges many awareness and creative programs and celebrates healthcare communities that have been waging war against HIV/AIDS and helping patients to combat this disease.
The first-ever World AIDS day was celebrated in the year 1988. In matters of placing the lens on global health issues, World AIDS Day lay the stepping stone and built an international framework for better health systems. From then on, the United Nations has been actively involved in promoting awareness activities related to AIDS. Various agencies of the UN have come together and joined hands in making the event remarkable and to help those in need. UN agencies have strived hard to tie up with several government heads to bring up more promotion about the day. Likewise, NGOs, volunteers, civilians and supporting firms have lent their support for the cause and have been contributing every year to champion the noble work. In the year 1987, James W Bunn and Thomas Netter started a new global program for raising awareness of AIDS. These two people were in charge of global information broadcasting department of the World Health Organization (WHO), specifically for the AIDS disease. Soon after, the Director for the Global AIDS program was brought into the loop, and a new proposal to initiate World AIDS day was formally sent. Jonathan Mann, who served as the Director at that point of time, was convinced about the idea and began implementation plans. This led to the commencement of formal celebrations from 1st December 1988. The program structure foundation was formally set up for the world by the UN much later in the year 1996. One of the significant highlights of these programs was the introduction of theme-based celebrations, and the norm has been followed every year till date.
The way of HIV/AIDS spreads:
HIV can be transmitted via the exchange of a variety of body fluids that contain a certain amount of the virus from infected people, such as Blood, Sharing injection drug equipment (“works”), such as needles with someone who has HIV, Semen (cum) and pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids and Vaginal fluids (Having vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV). Anal sex is riskier than vaginal sex. HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery. Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water. It is important to note that people with HIV, who are taking ART and are virally suppressed, do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Early access to ART and support to remain on treatment is therefore critical not only to improve the health of people with HIV but also to prevent HIV transmission.
Misconception about HIV/AIDS:
In general people have misinformation that HIV can be transmitted like infectious disease like as Malaria, but HIV does not spread by Air or water, mosquitoes ticks or other insects, saliva, tears, or sweat that is not mixed with the blood of a person with HIV, shaking hands; hugging; sharing toilets; sharing dishes, silverware, or drinking glasses; or engaging in closed-mouth or “social” kissing with a person with HIV, drinking fountains, other sexual activities that don’t involve the exchange of body fluids (for example, touching). HIV can’t be passed through healthy, unbroken skin.
Sign and Symptoms of HIV/AIDS:
Some people with HIV have no symptoms for months or even years after contracting the virus. Partly because of this, 1 in 7 people with HIV in the USA do not know that they have it.While a person with no symptoms may be unlikely to seek care, there is still a high risk of transmission. For this reason, experts recommend regular testing, so that everyone is aware of their HIV status. Meanwhile, around 80% of people with HIV develop flu-like symptoms around 2–6 weeks after contracting the infection. These symptoms are collectively called acute retroviral syndrome. Early symptoms of HIV may include: a fever, chills, sweating, particularly at night, enlarged glands or swollen lymph nodes, diffuse rash, fatigue, weakness, pain including joint pain, muscle aches, sore throat, thrush, or a yeast infection, unintentional weight loss, with advancing HIV. If a person with HIV does not receive effective treatment, the virus weakens the body’s ability to fight infection, exposing it to serious illnesses. When CD4 cells are severely depleted, at fewer than 200 cells per cubic millimeter, a doctor can diagnose AIDS, which is sometimes called stage 3 HIV. The presence of certain opportunistic infections, involving bacteria, viruses, fungi, or micro-bacteria also helps a doctor identify AIDS. Symptoms of AIDS can include: blurred vision, a dry cough, night sweats, white spots on the tongue or mouth, shortness of breath, or dyspnea, swollen glands lasting for weeks, diarrhea, which is usually persistent or chronic, a fever of over 100°F (37°C) that lasts for weeks, continuous fatigue, unintentional weight loss. A person with AIDS has a significantly increased risk of developing a life threatening illness. Without treatment, people with AIDS typically live for around 3 years after the diagnosis.
Treatment of HIV/AIDS
While there is no cure for HIV, treatments can stop the progression of the infection. Receiving these treatments, called anti-retroviral, can reduce the risk of transmission. It can also extend a person’s life expectancy and improve the quality of life. Many people who take HIV treatments live long, healthy lives. These medications are becoming increasingly effective and well-tolerated. Many people with HIV try complementary, alternative, or herbal remedies. However, there is no evidence that these are effective. While mineral or vitamin supplements may benefit health in other ways. HIV and AIDS are highly stigmatized and shrouded in misconceptions. As a result, a person may be persecuted, isolated or excluded. An HIV diagnosis can be very distressing, and feelings of anxiety or depression are common. Speaking with a mental health professional can help, as can speaking with a trusted doctor.
Prevention of HIV/AIDS
The following strategies can prevent contact with HIV
1. Using barrier protection: Using a method of barrier protection, such as a condom, during every sexual act can drastically reduce the chances of contracting HIV.
2. Using safe injection practices: Intravenous drug use is a key means of HIV transmission. Sharing needles and other drug equipment can expose a person to HIV and other viruses, such as hepatitis C. Anyone who injects any drug should do so with a clean, unused needle. Needle exchange and addiction recovery programs can help reduce the prevalence of HIV.
3. Avoiding exposure to relevant body fluids: To limit the risk of exposure to HIV, reduce contact with blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and other body fluids that can carry the virus. Frequently and thoroughly washing the skin immediately after coming into contact with body fluids can also reduce the risk of infection. To prevent transmission, healthcare workers use gloves, masks, protective eyewear, face shields, and gowns when exposure to these fluids is likely, and they follow established procedures.
4. Pregnancy: While certain anti-retroviral can harm the fetus during pregnancy, an effective, well-managed treatment plan can prevent transmission to the fetus. Vaginal deliveries are possible if the person’s HIV infection is controlled well. It may also be possible for the virus to transmit through breast milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend breastfeeding, regardless of a person’s viral load and whether they take anti-retroviral. It is important to discuss all the options thoroughly with a healthcare provider.
5. Education: Understanding the risk factors is crucial in avoiding exposure to HIV.
Motive behind Observing World HIV/AIDS Day
World AIDS day is an exclusive day meant to show solidarity, strength and support to patients who are suffering from HIV-AIDS as well as remember those who have lost their lives to the disease. Primary health care needs to be strengthened from the roots to set up a robust health network. If the fundamental needs of healthcare are not given consideration, then it becomes complicated to tackle an epidemic like HIV-AIDS. Every year we celebrate world HIV/AIDS day a. to inform individuals concerning avoidance, early finding, screening, control and so forth b. to educate people and expand it for prevention, diagnosis and control, c. to make people aware about the care and treatment for those people suffering from HIV/AIDS, d. to implement new training methods and number of skilled medical professionals in order to enhance the quality care, e. to promote several health and governments organizations in the whole world for their active involvement in the event to create or discover new strategies against HIV/AIDS, f. to advance proficient staff individuals with the goal that they can partake in the occasion, g. to raise awareness among public about transmission and misconception of HIV/AIDS, h. to give a chance to concentrate together on the sickness HIV/AIDS, i. to make people get tested the disease at an early stage, j. to encourage and aware people about the early diagnosis, prevention and treatment from the HIV/AIDS.
World AIDS Day provides an excellent opportunity to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS, to support people who have been suffering from the disease and solidarity to those who passed away out of HIV related illnesses.
(Writer is MSc Student of Applied Nutrition and Food Technology in Islamic University, Kusthia. The views expressed are personal.)