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Solving Myths Of HIV Infection And Understanding Facts

As a society, we need to understand that discrimination against HIV affected people will only increase the stigma associated with HIV infection

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HIV-AIDS pandemic began in early 1980s and has affected nearly 70 million people and caused around 35 million deaths worldwide. There were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS in 2017.

An estimated 1.8 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2017 – about 5,000 new infections per day. 

 In India, the first case was diagnosed in 1986. As per National AIDS Control Organisation- India, (NACO) around 21 lac people in India are affected by the HIV virus.

Since 1988, 1st December, is observed as World AIDS Day to spread awareness regarding this infection and to pay respect to millions who died due to this illness.

HIV infection spreads through sexual contact with infected person, infected pregnant mother to her child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding, from transfusion of infected blood/blood products and sharing of needles/sharps used by an infected person.  It does not spread through, air, water, contact with saliva, sweat, tears, sharing of toilets, food or drinks nor via insects/mosquitoes 

For prevention, safe sexual practices and use of condoms in case of high risk/unknown HIV status partner is important. All pregnant women should be tested at time of diagnosis of pregnancy; current anti-HIV medicines are very effective in preventing disease transmission to child. In all national certified blood banks, blood and blood products are routinely screened with very efficient methods to detect early infections. Sharing of needles and sharps should be completely avoided.

HIV virus affects the body’s immune system and destroys the CD4 cells (these are defence cells of body) thus making the patient susceptible to host of infections which otherwise do not cause serious effects in uninfected people. This process occurs slowly over a few months-years and patient develops clinical symptoms and signs of disease after many months-years after he or she has acquired the infection. HIV infection also causes direct toxic effects to various organs of the body especially the nervous system. Symptoms of HIV infection include prolonged unexplained- fever, loose motions for over a week, weight loss, recurrent candida (curdy white spots/patches) infection of mouth, recurrent herpes infection, tuberculosis and uncommon rare viral and fungal infections. It is also associated with certain types cancers. These symptoms and signs represent the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The good news regarding this infection, is the very significant advancement in anti-HIV medications. The current anti-HIV medicines are very effective in controlling the viral multiplication in body and thus saving the body’s immune system from being deteriorated. Side effects of these medications are strikingly low. 

For persons infected with HIV, treatment and supportive care is available at private hospitals or government centres under the NACO programs. Indian government gives free of cost treatment and monitoring of affected individuals under NACO programs. 

These medications need to be taken on regular basis and missing of even a single dose can lead to development of resistant virus and deleterious effects on health. The parameters of monitoring the HIV infection include cd4 counts and viral load. An undetectable HIV viral load and CD4 more than 500 are the goals of treatment in HIV infected patient.

Medicines are now available to prevent acquisition of HIV infection. These are called as Prep or Pre-exposure prophylaxis. These are advised in people who have a high risk for acquiring HIV infection. It is available as once a day use pill containing two drugs.  However the patient taking it should be negative for HIV before starting these medicines and should be under regular monitoring with an Infection diseases/HIV medicine expert. Reduction rate is around 90%.  Condom use should not be ignored despite the availability of these drugs when having an exposure with a person with an unknown status.

As a society, we need to understand that discrimination against HIV affected people will only increase the stigma associated with HIV infection. This is likely to result in low turnout of patients for testing, counselling and taking appropriate treatment which will cause a major hindrance in containing the disease. Discrimination against HIV individuals is under purview of law in most countries including India and is unacceptable.


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