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World AIDS Day – 1st December : Spreading Awareness, Fighting Stigma

    World AIDS Day

    AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is caused by a virus called HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). This is a chronic, life-threatening condition in which the body’s ability to fight infections is lost, as this deadly virus directly affects the human immune system. Though AIDS doesn’t have a specific cure, it can be managed to a certain extent.


    History of “World AIDS Day”

    Observed on 1 December, since the year 1988, ‘World AIDS Day’ commemorates the people who have passed away due to AIDS-related illnesses and raises awareness of the continuing global AIDS pandemic. Events are held throughout the world to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic, show support for people living with HIV/AIDS, and commemorate those who have died from the disease.

    The first World AIDS Day was held on 1 December 1988 at the suggestion of James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, two public information officers for the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Bunn and Netter took their idea to Dr. Jonathan Mann, Director of the Global Programme on AIDS (now known as UNAIDS). Mann liked the concept, approved it, and agreed with the recommendation that the first observance of World AIDS Day should be on 1 December 1988.

    Intersectionality and HIV/AIDS:

    In understanding HIV/AIDS, it’s important to know that various aspects of who we are, like being a man or a woman, our race, and how much money we have, can all come together, or intersect, in our experiences with this virus.

    When we talk about gender, it means the roles and expectations society has for men and women. It turns out that HIV/AIDS affects men and women differently. Understanding these differences helps make sure that everyone gets the right information and care.

    Now, think about race. People from different racial backgrounds might face distinct challenges when dealing with HIV/AIDS. It’s not about one being better or worse; it’s about acknowledging that we’re not all the same and our backgrounds matter in how we experience and manage health.

    Income, or how much money we have, is another factor. Sadly, not everyone has the same access to resources, including healthcare. So, when we look at HIV/AIDS, it’s crucial to consider how income inequalities might affect someone’s ability to get the care they need.

    Why does this matter? Because fairness matters. It’s about making sure that everyone, no matter if they are a man or a woman, no matter their race, and no matter their income, has the same chance at good health.

    This is where initiatives come in – organised efforts to bridge these gaps. They help ensure that information about HIV/AIDS is available to everyone, no matter their background. They help make healthcare accessible, and they don’t depend on where you come from, what gender you are, or how much money you have.

    By recognising and addressing these factors, we’re working towards a world where everyone, regardless of their unique identity, has equal access to information and care, which will help them fight against HIV/AIDS.


    United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

    The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) became operational in 1996, and it took over the planning and promotion of World AIDS Day. Rather than focus on a single day, UNAIDS created the World AIDS Campaign in 1997 to focus on year-round communications, prevention and education. 

    In 2004, the World AIDS Campaign became an independent organisation. Each year since 1988, Popes have released a greeting message for patients and doctors on World AIDS Day.

    The theme for World AIDS Day 2023

    The theme for World AIDS Day 2023 is ‘Let communities lead.’ This highlights the significant role that communities, especially those affected by HIV, play in the fight against AIDS. 

    Organisations representing these communities are at the forefront, connecting people with health services, building trust, and ensuring that policies are followed. However, challenges such as a lack of funds and obstacles in policies are hindering community-led efforts. Addressing these challenges could allow community-led organisations to make a substantial contribution to ending AIDS.

    This World AIDS Day underscores the importance of recognising and supporting community leadership. To fully realise the potential of communities in ending AIDS:

    • Community leadership should be central in all HIV plans and programs, from planning to evaluation.
    • Adequate and reliable funding is essential to scale up community-led initiatives, and community leaders should be properly supported and rewarded.

    In simple terms, it’s a call to involve and support communities because letting them lead is crucial in the fight against AIDS.


    ​​How you Can Make an Impact on World AIDS Day

    World AIDS Day is an important opportunity to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, to show solidarity with people living with the virus, and to work towards ending the epidemic.

    Here are some ways you can get involved in World AIDS Day:

    • Attend a World AIDS Day event in your community.
    • Wear a red ribbon or other symbol of support for people living with HIV.
    • Make a donation to an organisation working to fight HIV/AIDS.
    • Talk to your friends and family about HIV/AIDS.
    • Get tested for HIV.

    By getting involved in World AIDS Day, you can help to make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.


    Symptoms of AIDS

    In the acute stage of AIDS, people suffer from symptoms such as

    1. Fever
    2. Headache
    3. Body pain
    4. Diarrhea
    5. Weight loss

    Once the infection turns chronic, severe symptoms can be experienced, such as

    1. Chills with fever
    2. Diarrhea
    3. Sweating
    4. Weakness
    5. Drastic weight loss
    6. Swollen lymph nodes

    Stigma and Discrimination:

    Sadly, people with HIV often face unfair treatment and judgment due to stigma. This makes it harder to prevent and treat HIV. Initiatives and campaigns are fighting this by spreading awareness about the same. These initiatives strive to reduce stigma, fostering an environment where every individual, regardless of their HIV status, is treated with dignity and respect. Inclusivity is vital; everyone deserves support and care.


    How HIV is transmitted

    This virus can be transmitted through bodily fluids such as 

    • Breast milk
    • Blood
    • Semen fluid
    • Vaginal fluid
    • Rectal fluid

    When any of these fluids are transmitted from an HIV-infected person to a healthy person through cuts, sores, mucus membranes or injections, then this virus enters into the bloodstream of the healthy person, which eventually leads to AIDS. As this virus shows delayed symptoms, most of the time, the sufferers themselves wouldn’t be aware of the disease state. As we know, a mode of transmission for HIV is through unsafe sex. Many people are shy to disclose it and get treatment. When the awareness towards AIDS started, people understood the mode of transfusion and came forward.

    Pediatric HIV/AIDS:

    HIV transmission from mother to child poses a significant challenge, but ongoing initiatives and targeted programs are improving outcomes for infants born to mothers with HIV. This mode of transmission, known as mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), can occur during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

    Comprehensive prevention strategies have been implemented to prevent newborns from contracting the virus. A crucial part of this effort is the use of Antiretroviral therapy (ART), which significantly reduces the risk of transmission. 

    Pregnant women with HIV receive specialised medical care, including antenatal monitoring and counselling on safe delivery practices. Additionally, infants born to mothers with HIV are administered ART as a preventive measure, further diminishing the chances of infection.

    Despite these advancements, challenges persist. 

    Access to healthcare, especially in resource-limited settings, remains a critical concern. Ensuring that pregnant women have timely access to testing, treatment, and counselling is essential for the success of prevention programs. 

    Additionally, cultural and societal factors may contribute to stigma, potentially hindering individuals from seeking necessary medical care.

    Ongoing initiatives worldwide are dedicated to addressing these challenges and improving outcomes for children affected by HIV. Collaborative efforts between governmental health agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and healthcare providers aim to expand access to prevention services and enhance the overall quality of maternal and child healthcare.

    Education plays a crucial role in these initiatives, empowering communities with knowledge about HIV transmission, prevention, and treatment. By promoting awareness and reducing stigma, these programs not only contribute to the prevention of pediatric HIV but also foster supportive environments for mothers living with the virus.


    Awareness for AIDS

    World AIDS Day has been celebrated on 1st December since 1988. James W Bunn and Thomas Netter, along with Dr. Jonathan Mann (Director of UNAIDS), first fomented this idea to the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness of AIDS. 

    Origin of HIV

    HIV was first found in chimpanzees and then spread to humans. It was believed that HIV originated in Kinshasa, Congo, in 1920. Till 1980, there was no specific count of people infected with HIV. By 1980, five continents (America, both North and South, Europe, Australia, and Africa) had reported nearly 300,000 HIV-positive cases. By 1988, an estimated 1,00,00 to 1,50,000 people had been affected by AIDS. So, to alert people about this epidemic, an awareness day was proposed. 

    The international recognition for AIDS is a Red Ribbon. Back in the day, people even used to pin red ribbons on their outfits to spread awareness. Various countries use different strategies to spread awareness for the cause. The most used strategies were rallies, concerts, and memorials for the patients who died due to AIDS.

    Prevention Methods:

    Preventing HIV involves simple steps. Safe sex practices, like using condoms, protect against transmission during intimate moments. Additionally, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill that lowers the risk of getting HIV, especially for those with a higher chance of exposure. Needle exchange programs help intravenous drug users stay safe by providing clean needles, reducing the risk of HIV spread. Importantly, educating everyone about HIV is key. Knowing how HIV spreads and taking precautions can make a big difference.


    Celebs Who Contributed Towards Spreading Awareness

    Few celebs have suffered from AIDS and raised awareness towards it. A massive wave of HIV testing and people searching about AIDS followed Sheen’s reveal of being positive, which was titled the ‘Charlie Sheen effect’. Sheen announced that he had had HIV for years and hid it from the media. This talk went viral, and it was said that the media coverage of this issue was highly rated compared to the last seven years. This announcement connected Google searches to the most searched topic related to AIDS. 

    After Sheen’s announcement, from November 17 to December 8, nearly 2.75 million searches on Google were found relating to aids. From this, you can figure out how celeb-induced awareness can spread to the masses in a short period.


    Diagnosis for AIDS

    Blood Test

    • The traditional method to detect HIV is through blood tests. 
    • The person under-diagnosis is taken to detect antibodies against HIV.

    Anyway, many hospitals nowadays carry out AIDS tests once the blood has been extracted.

    ELISA

    ELISA, short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, is used as a confirmatory test for AIDS. If ELISA shows negative, but the symptoms are positive, then testing again within three months is recommended. Sometimes, HIV antibodies are not immediately produced after you get infected; hence, retesting is highly recommended. 

    ELISA is quite sensitive to chronic forms of HIV, so it is highly accurate.

    Home Testing Kits

    As most people are hesitant to undergo an HIV test, countries like the United States, United Kingdom and France have approved a few kits that you can use at home to check if you’re positive. 

    Saliva Test

    Saliva taken with a cotton swab may be sent to specialised laboratories to check for the presence of HIV. This is an uncommon type of test.

    These are the few tests that are carried out to detect HIV, but most of the time, blood tests are done as a primary diagnosis, and ELISA is used as a confirmatory test.


    Mental Health Aspects:

    After someone receives a diagnosis of AIDS, a lot goes on in their mind. While physical health is most definitely important, mental health plays a big role, too. 

    Imagine carrying the weight of a significant health condition – the worries, the fears, and sometimes, the feeling of being alone. This is the mental health aspect of living with HIV/AIDS.

    Firstly, let’s talk about the emotional side. Getting an AIDS diagnosis can bring about a range of emotions. There might be feelings of sadness, fear, or even anger. It’s normal to have these emotions, and everyone copes in their way. What’s important is acknowledging these feelings and finding ways to work through them.

    Another mental challenge is the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. People might feel judged or isolated because of their condition. This can lead to a sense of loneliness. Imagine having something challenging to deal with and feeling like you can’t share it with others because of how they might react. This is a heavy burden to carry.

    The uncertainty about the future is another mental strain. Living with AIDS means managing a chronic condition that requires ongoing care. The patient may wonder — Will the treatment work? What about the side effects? These questions can take a toll on their mental well-being.

    Now, the importance of mental health support cannot be stressed enough. Just as the body needs medicine and care, the mind needs support too. This support comes in different forms – talking to a counsellor or therapist, joining support groups with people who understand what it’s like, and having friends and family who offer a listening ear.

    Understanding the mental health challenges of individuals living with HIV/AIDS is crucial. It’s more than just taking medicine; it’s about caring for the person. By recognising and addressing these mental health aspects, we contribute to a more compassionate and supportive environment for those living with HIV/AIDS.


    How to support people with AIDS

    Counselling

    People with AIDS need counselling so that they can share their mental concerns with others. Listening to them and making them feel at ease can give them mental support, which is mandatory for people with AIDS.

    Educate

    AIDS patients need to be well-informed and educated so they can access valuable treatment. Similarly, patients, friends and relatives also need to be educated.

    Treatment and adherence

    Taking medications for AIDS and adhering to the same can increase the life span of patients and help to reduce comorbidities.

    Government and NGO Initiatives:

    Governments and NGOs worldwide play a crucial role in fighting HIV/AIDS. They create policies, programs, and initiatives to address this global challenge. These efforts aim to increase awareness, provide better healthcare, and support those affected. New strategies are constantly emerging, showing the ongoing commitment to overcoming HIV/AIDS.


    How to help an AIDS patient?

    Counseling, treatment, and education all help AIDS patients, but what is important are funds. As we know, AIDS patients require continuous care and treatment, so the cost is high for management. Hence, raising funds for such causes can help them immensely. 

    There are quite a few organisations where countless people are getting treatment for AIDS. You can give funds to such organisations or any hospitals which you know to help such cases. 

    Recently, there have been quite a few online crowdfunding platforms where you can raise funds for AIDS patients’ treatment. And Ketto, a crowdfunding platform based in India, is one such platform that connects donors, people who want to help, to those who need help. 


    Conclusion

    AIDS is a deadly disease that doesn’t have a specific cure. As many people worldwide are still suffering from this disease, raising awareness and funds for AIDS patients can be quite helpful to them. 

    December 1st is celebrated as AIDS Day in order to spread awareness. On this day, every country comes up with different strategies to spread awareness, like campaigns, ads, etc.

    But awareness alone is not important. We also need to take action by helping those fighting AIDS. Whether it’s donating money or educating others, every small action counts. When we all work together, we move closer to a world where AIDS isn’t as scary, and people facing it know they have a whole community on their side.

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