World AIDS Day: A call to duty


The World AIDS Day, which is one of the 11 official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organisation, is designated to be observed on December 1. On this day, people around the world unite to show support for people living with HIV, remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses, and inform people that HIV is still very much living among us. The World AIDS Day is globally identified with a red ribbon and after 33 years of its celebration, the theme of World AIDS Day 2021 is “End inequalities, End AIDS” which aims to confront the inequalities that drive AIDS and to reach people who are currently not receiving essential HIV services.

The inequalities blocking the progress of ending AIDS emerge when HIV interacts with complex fault lines across social, economic, legal and health systems. They are often aggravated by laws and policies and are reflected in unequal HIV outcomes, discriminatory and oppressive practices and violence. Many of the inequalities that facilitated the AIDS pandemic are getting worse and continue to fan the spread of HIV in many parts of the world, not excluding Nigeria. Sexual and gender-based violence which no country has ended, continue to be major drivers of the AIDS epidemic, with immediate and long-term consequences for individuals, families, communities and societies.

The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. By damaging the immune system, HIV interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. HIV can be spread through different ways, some of which include sex, contact with infected blood or mother to child transmission during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Statistical data gathered on HIV & AIDS in Nigeria by UNAID in 2018 showed that an estimate of 53 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses. The results also showed that about 1.9 million people were living with HIV with about 130 000 new HIV infections. 55% of adults living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral treatments, while only 35% of children were accessing the treatment.

It is important to note that AIDS occurs when the immune system has been severely damaged and such a person will be more likely to develop other infections easily. This has led to several symptoms of AIDS being associated with patients, some of which include: sweats, chills, recurring fever, chronic diarrhoea, weight loss, skin rashes, persistent unexplained fatigue etc. Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS but drugs like “Antiretroviral drugs” can slow the progression of the disease as they reduce the amount of virus in the body of someone with HIV which in turn keeps the immune system strong enough to fight off diseases. Therefore, people experiencing any of the AIDS symptoms must damn the fears of stigmatisation, open up, get tested and seek adequate care.

HIV stigmatisation affects the emotional well-being and mental health of people living with HIV. They may fear that they will be discriminated against or judged negatively if their HIV status is revealed, and hence do not open up for adequate treatment. The lack of information and awareness combined with outdated beliefs leads to the stigma usually attached to HIV/AIDS. Actions can therefore be taken to end HIV stigma through supportive behaviours.

Many people think that there is no way to protect themselves from HIV, which is not true. There are several ways to minimise the chances of an infection, such as using condoms for sex, limiting your number of sexual partners, avoiding the reuse of injection syringes, getting tested and knowing your partner’s HIV status. Furthermore, you can always talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you are at risk of HIV infection.

In addition, modern medicine provides a way to minimise the chances of transmitting HIV to one’s child during pregnancy. If an HIV patient takes her medicines daily as recommended by a healthcare provider throughout her pregnancy (including labour and delivery) and continues using her medicines for about four to six weeks after birth, the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby can be as low as one per cent or less.

The unfortunate prevalence of HIV and AIDS in our society is the more reason why we all need to fight against its spread. As we celebrate this year’s World AIDS Day, we need to sensitise, educate and spread awareness on HIV and AIDS, the need to steer clear of the causes of infection, and what can be done to live a healthy life even if infected already. The government should seek to end the inequalities among people in the nation and make antiretroviral treatments accessible to people irrespective of social class. The collaborative efforts of individuals and the government are important to “End inequalities and End AIDS”. (PUNCH)

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