Clearing the air about HIV

Clearing the air about HIV

With 2.1 million Indians infected with the HIV virus, India accounts for the third highest number of people living with HIV in the world. The country witnessed 80,000 new cases in 2016. Despite the availability of free anti-retroviral treatment, uptake remains low, as the clinics  are inaccessible to many patients.

Hence, it is important now, more than ever before, to educate people about the condition. Here are five factoids that will help shed some light on the disease:

* HIV is a chronic manageable condition: In the late 80s and early 90s, AIDS was a deadly disease but since the invention of anti-retroviral drugs that arrest HIV in body, stop its multiplication and increase immune system's strength, HIV has become a chronic manageable condition. A person with HIV infection, who is on treatment, can live a healthy life.

* Stigma affects access to services: It is said that HIV does not kill people but stigma does, because people do not seek treatment for the fear of discrimination. This stigma is an outcome of ignorance or judgemental attitudes. It is important that we collectively fight against HIV not against people living with or affected by HIV.

* Free treatment is available across India: Top quality treatment is available in India. The treatment does not cure HIV, but it arrests its spread in the body and recoups immunity. Any person living with HIV can live a normal life with daily medication. There are 22,000 HIV testing centres in the country that are called Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTCs) and 531 HIV treatment centres that are called Anti-Retroviral Treatment Centres (ARTCs) in the country, where you can test for HIV and get treated for free.

* There is also something called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis available in India now, although it is not within the government programme. It works like any other prophylactic medication that is used for malaria or flu. It is almost 100% safe to use PrEP to prevent HIV and many studies across the world have proved its effectiveness.

* HIV can only be spread through four body fluids: HIV can only be transmitted through four body fluids, blood, breast milk, vaginal secretion and semen. Only sex with an HIV positive or unknown HIV status person without condom, using same needle and syringe for injection by multiple people; transfusion of HIV positive blood or mother-to-child transmission can cause the infection. Shaking hands, using same toilets, clothes or utensils etc, do not transmit HIV.

* India has second largest burden of TB-HIV: It is crucial that India invests enough to ensure that we are able to control this co-infection. HIV also aggravates other co-infections such as cervical cancer and hepatitis B and C.  

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