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The Epidemic of Ignorance

By Prathama Komal Nabi

You could be next. Yes, you could be the next victim of a merciless monster that has already taken 33 million lives. It could be you. Then again it could also be me. The statistics concerning HIV/AIDS are devastating and the reality even more gruesome. Since the first case diagnosed in 1980, HIV/AIDS(Human Immunodeficiency virus/Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) has infected over 40 million people worldwide, killed 33 million and orphaned a staggering 14 million.
The UN has been working relentlessly to turn the tables and bring down the numbers. In 1996 the UNAIDS was created to unite six global agencies in their response to HIV/AIDS, after recognizing the growing complexities of the global epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

The basics of HIV/AIDS:
AIDS is the disease that kills and HIV the disease-causing agent. HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus infects or destroys vital cells of the body's immune system called helper T-Lymphocytes or CD4 cells. Since these play an integral role in the body's immune system, the destruction of these cells leads to the eventual failure of the immune system. This is when AIDS or Aquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome occurs. In numbers, if the body has less than 200 CD4 cells or if the percentage is below 14%, the person has AIDS.

However, the time period varies outrageously from person to person. Some die within months of being infected while others go on to live healthy, normal lives. Being infected with HIV is not the same as having AIDS.

After being infected with HIV as the body's immune system slowly starts to wear away, the person contracts 'Opportunistic infections'. The infections are termed as "opportunistic" because these would not have occurred if the body's immune system was fully functional. Some opportunistic infections are:

a. PCP(Pneumocytosis carinii pnuemonia), a lung infection;

b. KS(Kaposi's sarcoma), a skin cancer;

c. CMV(Cytomegalovirus), an infection that usually affects the eye;

d. Candida, a fungal infection

No cure for AIDS has been found out yet. However, there are drugs that can slow down the HIV virus, and slow down the damage done to the immune system.

The aids virus in action

Transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS
One of the main reasons for which HIV/AIDS is spreading like fire throughout the globe is ignorance of the real facts of its transmission and prevention. Some are confused, some have very vague ideas, while some don't even know about HIV/AIDS. Stigma and discrimination concerning the disease has further fuelled the cloud of unawareness enshrouding this disease. People are afraid to have any sort of communication with an infected person, because they think that they will be infected as well. Because of the contempt and rejection that society shows, often the infected persons are pushed into isolation and are deprived of the proper medical treatment.

The following lists the ways HIV/AIDS is transmitted:
a. Sharing needles, IV drugs with an infected person or being injured by contaminated needles or other sharp objects.

b. Using contaminated skin piercing instruments like a tattoo needles, acupuncture needles, etc.

c. Receiving blood transfusions from an infected person or infected products, transplant of an infected organ.

d. Contact with broken skin i.e., exposure to blood through cuts or lesions.

e. Transplacental transmission, meaning mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy or through breastfeeding.

f. Intercourse or copulation with an infected person.

Contrary to general misconception HIV/AIDS is not spread through contact, shared food, clothing, or shaking hands.

As with all problems the solution lies in its root. Similarly, the prevention of HIV/AIDS is intertwined with its methods of transmission. The following precautions can help in restricting the spread of HIV/AIDS-
Using sterilised needles and syringes during blood transfusion, tatooing, acupuncture, etc. Of course, for drug users the best prevention would be to stop using drugs.
Taking necessary safety measures while helping someone who is bleeding. e.g. wearing gloves, face masks and protecting any cuts or opens sores on the skin.
For those pregnant women infected with AIDS, a special drug AZT is administered during pregnancy and delivery, which reduces the risk of having a HIV-infected baby to 2% from a 25% high. The baby itself is also given AZT.
Implementing proper protection during copulation.
Practicing monogamy and abstinence.

Aids affected children in Thailand

A global crisis:
Not a corner of this globe has been spared the wrath of this cataclysmic scourge. The numbers however vary from region to region.

Africa: The African countries south of the Sahara, with the some of the best HIV surveillance systems in the world, estimates that the number of newly infected adults and children in Africa reached 3.5 million by the end of 2002. There are now 16 countries in Africa in which more than one-tenth of the adult population aged 15-24 is infected with HIV. Horrifying is the fact that in seven countries in the southern cone of the continent, at least one in five is living with the virus. This is the highest rate since the epidemic broke out, says the UN report. With a total of over 5 million infected people South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.

Asia: The largest of the seven continents, Asia continues to struggle through this epidemic. UNAIDS estimates that 700,000 adults, 450,000 of them men became infected in South and South-East Asia during the course of the year 2001. Overall, as of end-2002, the region is estimated to have 6 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia: In countries of the former Soviet Union, the HIV epidemic continues to be heavily concentrated in injecting drug users. A conservative estimate of the number of adults and children living with HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union is 1.2 million in the year 2002.

Caribbean: HIV is ravaging the populations of several Caribbean island states. In fact, some of them have worse epidemics than any other country in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa. Haiti is the worst affected nation in the region. Overall, around 8%of adults in urban areas and 4% in rural areas are infected with the epidemic. Others, like the Dominican Republic, has one in every 40 infected with HIV/AIDS, while the adult prevalence rate in the Bahamas is over 3.5%.

United Kingdom: An estimated 34,000 people are infected with HIV/AIDS. However, one in three do not even know that they have been infected.

A threat close to home: AIDS and Bangladesh:
Hovering over the danger line, Bangladesh stands at low prevalence with 13,000 infected individuals(UNAIDS report, 2001) of which 4% are among the IDU(Injectable Drug Users). Globally, reaching 5% in any high risk group is seen as an epidemic. To avoid an epidemic, the experts say, Bangladesh needs to work on prevention efforts on a national level, including increased efforts towards the distribution of knowledge, promotion of artificial protection, and even behavioural changes.

World Aids Day 2003: Live And Let Live:
World AIDS Day was first observed on December 1,1988, after an international summit of health ministers called for a new spirit of social tolerance and a greater exchange of information about HIV/AIDS. Observed annually on December 1st, World AIDS Day serves to strengthen global efforts to address the challenges of the AIDS epidemic, which is spreading throughout every region of the world.

Every year a particular theme is chosen for the World Aids Day and this year's theme is "Stigma and Discrimination" and the UNAIDS's slogan this year is "Live and let live".

"Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental
human right founded on principles of natural
justice that are universal and perpetual. The
basic characteristics of human rights are
that they inhere in individuals because they
are human, and that they apply to people
everywhere." -- UNAIDS

You can make a difference:
Right this moment HIV/AIDS could be taking down its next victim. This is where you come in. You can help in saving a life. It's the little things we all do that add up to make a difference. You can support the cause by raising awareness of HIV/AIDS in your area, put up posters, organize a HIV/AIDS campaign, fight stigma and discrimination. Wear the Red Ribbon*, help make a difference in somebody's life.

*Red Ribbon-The Red Ribbon is an international symbol of AIDS awareness that is worn by people all year around to show care and concern aboutt he issue and to remind others of the need for their support and commitment.




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