“COVID-19 is threatening the progress that the world has made in health and development over the past 20 years, including the gains we have made against HIV.” says UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. HIV has claimed almost 33 million lives so far, and continues to be a global public health issue. An estimated 38 million people were living with HIV by the end of 2019.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) targets the immune system and hampers the body’s defense mechanism against many types of viruses and certain types of cancers. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of the HIV infection and can take some years to develop. It brings with it certain cancers, infections and other severe long-term medical complications.
HIV, unlike many other deadly viruses, still has no vaccine. Preventing it with conventional antibodies has been tricky because of how fast it evolves in the body.
Just like Covid-19, the HIV issue highlights the correlation between global health and human rights and inequality. For at risk-groups like sex workers, young women in southern and eastern Africa and other developing countries the Covid pandemic has made access to health-care difficult. Supply-chain disruptions and lockdown orders have made HIV patients more vulnerable. Over two thirds of all people with HIV live in the WHO African region.
HIV can be transmitted through various bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions. HIV cannot be transmitted through day-today activities with normal human behavior such as hugging, shaking hands, kissing etc. HIV can be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy or delivery.
Though there is no cure available, effective Antiretroviral Drugs can control the virus in the body as well as prevent outward transmission. At the end of 2019, 67% of HIV positive people were receiving Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).
The most powerful weapon we have in our fight against HIV is prevention and regular checkups. Condom use during intercourse can prevent many sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Male latex condoms are 85% effective in preventing the spread of the virus, as studies show.
Testing for HIV and STIs is strongly advised for people falling in at-risk categories. HIV can be detected through rapid diagnostic kits that provide same day results. Self-test kits are also increasingly available and are a convenient and effective method. Early detection of the virus can enable the patients to have a much better quality of life with ART.
With proper dissemination of information regarding HIV, outreach programs for remote populations, affordable medicines and tests, the fight against HIV can no doubt be won. Gone are the days when HIV was considered to be a death sentence. If detected early, it is quite possible for patients to have a long life while strictly following prescriptions. Social out-casting and discrimination of HIV positive people will also reduce as more and more people are informed about the how’s and why’s of this deadly virus.