Wednesday, 16 November 2011

HIV free Generation

HIV is one of the killer diseases of our time. I recently engaged in conversation with a lady whose husband had lost almost all of his family to AIDS and to them the news of losing a loved one no longer put a cloud over the day. It is almost as if it had become a part of life. Her worry however was for the many babies and children who had been left motherless. Most of them never knew who the fathers were or they themselves had crossed over from the disease. Not only is there an increasing number of newly born with HIV but also babies and children orphaned from this disease.

Reported cases of HIV have continued to rise since the 1990’s until present when numbers have started to stabilise. There is an obvious burden of this disease today most predominantly in Africa. As at the end of 2009, UNAIDS estimated that 68% of HIV carriers were in sub Saharan Africa. The burden of the disease in Asia has remained relatively stable among the high risk groups of women whereas the incidence in Eastern Europe and southern Asia has almost tripled since 2000. Of the estimated 33.3million cases in the world as at the end of 2009, women accounted for just over half the number of adults living with the disease.

One would think that with the constant public awareness on HIV, the figures would be declining today. The reality is many people around the world take the topic of HIV with a pinch of salt. Otherwise why would an epidemic like this which takes the lives of many and cost the world economy millions a year still be on increase? Let’s face it; the highest prevalence of the disease is in Africa. A developing continent where poverty be it in the form of unavailable clean water, lack of food / a healthy balanced diet, improper housing, lack of funds for medical care, poor education, child labour and limited opportunities is the prime concern of many. HIV is probably the least of their worries.  It is however a burden which should be addressed. Although the transmission of HIV from mothers to children is preventable and the occurrence is fairly rare in the western world, thousands of children in Africa are still being born with the disease due to lack of treatment and education. In 2009, 370 000 children were born with HIV. Together, with the right awareness and intervention the dream of an HIV free generation can become a reality.

It is no secret that the commonest form of HIV transmission is via sexual intercourse with an infected person. Why then are more women infected than men? It may sound biased to say that the men usually end up having sex for the fun of it or usually have more than one partner at a time. So hypothetically, you have one infected man pass on the disease to 5 women in a year before he even realises that he has HIV. Not many couples undertake an STD test prior to getting intimate. And in the west where many young ladies are on birth control pills, barrier protection is not usually the first choice. What is needed is positive behaviour change amongst all. No one walks around with an HIV label. You never think it would be you but it could happen to anyone.

Having an HIV free generation is a major challenge which would realistically take over a decade to achieve. There is a cycle which needs to be broken to make way for the hope of this HIV free generation.  Unprotected sex leads to a possible HIV infection and pregnancy which subsequently leads to the birth of an HIV child who will probably never get to know the father and be orphaned by the death of the mother a few years down the line. Without the right care this child grows up vulnerable with no bright future and finds solace in the partner who makes them smile. Only this fairy tale come true may turn out to be the nightmare they never wake up from.  But there is a silver lining round the cloud. Children born with HIV without treatment do not usually live past their 2nd birthday. With treatment, they could live on for another 10 – 20 years. If this generation of infected babies grow to be educated and cautious in their sexual quest, then the disease has a chance of being contained. In the meantime, adults and the current up and coming youth need a constant reminder of the reality of HIV and the importance of taking that extra precaution to be safe.

Join in the fight for an HIV free generation.

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