Today is World AIDS Day and I wanted to observe this day by discussing the truth about the virus. I’ve been called a “proponent” of many things, and media outlets typically don’t have it right. However, I am 100% without-a-doubt a proponent of truth and relieving the social stigmas that surround many misunderstood issues. Explaining the truth about AIDS is important to me.
Social stigmas hinder the education and understanding of health and well-being issues.
The idea behind a social stigma is to ruin one’s social identity and the main reason someone would do so is out of fear. It can be argued that in the case of people doing harm to others, social stigma is a basic evolutionary survival response in a highly social species. This may be true, but social stigma does nothing but aid in the hiding of certain socially unacceptable practices or health issues and allow for the continued victimization of innocents to occur. However, that isn’t my main concern for this post, so I don’t want to get too far off topic.
My main concern is when healthy practices are stigmatized or certain groups of people. In these cases, ignorance and fear are the basis for stigmatization which lead to forcing unhealthy lifestyle choices upon others or the ostracism of a group of people who are doing absolutely no harm to others.
World AIDS Day
We all have heard about the “AIDS epidemic” in Sub-Saharan Africa, and many people know that the main reasons for the continued spread of the HIV virus is the stigma attached to disclosing your status, or even getting tested. Combine that with lack of proper/up-to-date ARV medications and of course this would reach epidemic proportions.
What people do not seem to understand is that this is a global pandemic. The same reasoning and stigmatization of the virus is also in the Western World. The only reason that the rates of those affected are much smaller within our Western borders is because of basic AIDS-prevention education and medical advances (and because many more people have access to preventative devices as well as treatment).
Unfortunately, even with AIDS-prevention education, most people still do not have much knowledge of the pathophysiology of the HIV/AIDS virus, and quite understandably, it is extremely complex. Basic knowledge of the virus would aid tremendously in the knowledge of how transmission occurs, and I think it is essential to educate everyone on the basics of HIV/AIDS.
Brian and I, at one time, discussed whether or not we were comfortable with the idea of adopting a child with HIV/AIDS. At first we said, “Absolutely not.” We both had the basic transmission knowledge, but the stigma in our society was so great that we feared bringing an HIV-positive child into our home.
We decided to explore our discomfort further, and contacted Project Hopeful about our concerns. Project Hopeful works to educate potential adoptive families (as well as the general population) about the real risks of adopting children with special needs, specifically HIV/AIDS. I remember discussing specific fears with one of the team members and how she educated me without making me feel shame in my complete ignorance. We also looked into virologic failure and the astonishing advances in pediatric AIDS treatments over the last twenty years. By the end of our research, we were not scared of the idea anymore, and not only that: we wanted to spread the truth with others.
Hopefully, we are going to be doing a little of that today.
Some very basic facts everyone should know about the virus:
What is HIV?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
H: Human: because this virus can only infect human beings.
I: Immuno-deficiency: because the effect of the virus is to create a deficiency, a failure to work properly, within the body’s immune system.
V: Virus: because this organism is a virus, which means one of its characteristics is that it is incapable of reproducing by itself. It reproduces by taking over the machinery of the human cell.
What is AIDS?
A: Acquired: because it’s a condition one must acquire or get infected with; not something transmitted through the genes
I: Immune: because it affects the body’s immune system, the part of the body which usually works to fight off germs such as bacteria and viruses
D: Deficiency: because it makes the immune system deficient (makes it not work properly)
S: Syndrome: because someone with AIDS may experience a wide range of different diseases and opportunistic infections.
Ways you CAN get HIV:
It is important to remember that HIV is NOT transmitted through:
- Saliva, tears, sweat, feces, or urine
- Shaking hands
- Insect bites
- Living in the same house with someone who has HIV
- Sharing showers or toilets with someone with HIV
How do you avoid getting HIV?
HIV is a virus that infects people by getting inside their blood cells. To avoid getting HIV, you must prevent the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk* of someone who is infected from entering your body through your mouth, vagina, anus, tip of your penis, or breaks in your skin.
*Breastfeeding with HIV is a bit complicated and expert opinion is currently evolving. Depending on your region of the world, WHO is now recommending some HIV positive mothers who are on ARV medication (with a low viral load) to breastfeed their babies.