The Problem of Living with AIDS
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has an interesting history from the 1950s to the present day.
Once called "the gay plague" or the Gay Related Immune Disease (GRID), it was regarded as a disease mainly affecting homosexual men. Even when it was discovered that women could contact it through sexual relations, it was still regarded as the "gay disease" for many years. The term AIDS was first used by the CDC in 1982.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is the end stage of the viral disease HIV. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks a person's immune system, making it susceptible to diseases it should ordinarily be able to fight against. People with HIV start with non-specific symptoms such as sore throat, fever, and fatigue. Then, they enter a chronic stage where the disease is latent and present but showing no symptoms. The final stage of HIV is AIDS.
At this stage, the immune system is severely weakened, and the affected person shows symptoms such as:
- Unintended and fast weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea
Diagnosing HIV early enough and starting treatment with antiretroviral drugs can help a person living with it to live a full, healthy life without ever developing AIDS.
How HIV/AIDS is Spread
HIV/AIDS is spread by body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal discharge, and breast milk. Therefore, the most common methods of contracting HIV/AIDS are:
A person can transfer HIV/AIDS to another person by sleeping with them. The transfer of bodily fluids from one person's body into another carries the virus into the other person's body. Even when penetrative sex is avoided, small sores in the mouth or genital area are enough entry points for the virus to pass through.
A mother with HIV/AIDS can pass it on to her child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. If a mother is diagnosed and is taking antiretroviral drugs, this can be avoided.
Sharing Needles/Using Unsterilised Needles
Needles come in contact with a person's bloodstream. They are supposed to be discarded after a single use. Sharing needles or using unsterilized needles puts a person at risk of HIV/AIDS or other diseases.
How AIDS is Not Spread
AIDS is not spread by regular interactions with an infected person, such as:
- Sitting close to the person
- Shaking hands
- Sharing cutlery
- Sharing toilets
- Sharing plates
- Any form of contact or touch that doesn't involve body fluids
Other ways AIDS cannot be spread include:
- Mosquitoes and other insects
- Through the air
- Through saliva, tears, or sweat.
The stigma of people living with AIDS
Famous American actor Charlie Sheen hid his HIV status from the public for four years while paying millions of dollars to people threatening to expose his secret if he didn't pay them off.
The assumption is that he paid the blackmailers for so long because he was aware of the negative attitudes that people have towards people living with HIV/AIDS and did not want to be a victim of that. He has since come out to tell the world of his status, saying he feels like he's "carrying the torch" for others living with HIV.
Effects of Stigma
People living with HIV/AIDS often anticipate negative treatment by people around them, much like Charlie Sheen did. This, coupled with the adverse treatment they receive when people discover their HIV status, has terrible medical and social effects on them.
Medical Effects of Stigma
Delay in Seeking Healthcare
Anticipating and later internalizing the negative beliefs and attitudes people have about people living with HIV/AIDS can cause people to put off going to the hospital to get tested and receive a diagnosis. Sometimes the attitude of health workers who are not adequately educated about HIV/AIDS makes this situation worse.
Poor Mental Health
Stigma against people living with AIDS can cause them to develop poor beliefs about themselves. They can develop low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and poor drug adherence.
Social Effects of Stigma
People living with HIV/AIDS can have complicated relationships. They can be ostracised by people they were once close to and sometimes suffer violence. Navigating romantic relationships is also difficult because of the myths associated with the disease.
Increased costs of healthcare and more frequent trips to the hospital can put a strain on a person's employment and financial security. They could also face taunts from colleagues and employees, leading to an impaired workplace experience.
Protecting Yourself and Others
Protecting yourself and others from contracting HIV/AIDS is possible by following these simple guidelines.
- Do not have sex without a condom.
- Do not have sex with multiple people.
- Insist on using new, sterilized needles for injections or other procedures you need to get done in a hospital.
- An HIV test should be part of the routine tests on pregnant women.
Stopping HIV Stigma
We can join forces to stop HIV/AIDS stigma by:
Talk openly about HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS is not a taboo topic. It is a disease that affects and has claimed the lives of millions of people. Talking openly about it and educating yourself and others is an excellent way to dispel myths people have about the disease and people who have it and foster better attitudes towards people living with HIV.
Stand up against discrimination
When you see someone being discriminated against because of their HIV status, please stand up for them when you can and correct the wrong behavior. Apart from the immediate relief your help will bring them, you will be sending a message to other people that such behavior is inappropriate. You can do this by speaking up when someone says something harmful or reporting to the appropriate authorities where necessary.
People living with HIV/AIDS are people too. People are loved, appreciated, and cared for like everyone else. We should encourage and support them, not cast them aside.
It is important for you to know your HIV status, especially if you are sexually active, pregnant, or doing more things that could increase your chances of getting it. If you have HIV, seeking treatment early will save your life.
You can consult a doctor virtually and get a HIV test done in the comfort of your home with Zuri Health. Just text Vera on +234 913 000 6888 if you're in Nigeria or +254 756 551551 if you're in Kenya. Your consultation and test results will remain confidential.