When the Human Immunodeficiency Virus was discovered, it was deadly. However, years of consistent research has paid off, and HIV is no longer a death sentence. We have learned how to manage it effectively such that people living with HIV & AIDS now live long, fulfilling lives. They go on to have children, and those children do not get the virus. In a few cases, people have even been cured of HIV through experimental therapies.
A lot of progress has been made, yet there is still a lot to be done. In 2018, almost 2 million Nigerians had HIV/AIDS, and 3 in 10 of them were not aware of their status. The 3 in 10 people who were not aware of their status pose a threat to all the progress we have made.
What happens when a person is not aware of their HIV status?
HIV can live in a body for many years without being detected, quietly destroying the infected but unaware person’s immune system in the process. The infected person can then spread the virus to many people through unprotected sex, sharing of sharp objects, amongst other means.
So, everyone needs to know their HIV status. As previously established, HIV is not a death sentence. Neither is it a thing to be ashamed of.
So, what role can you play to help ensure that we beat HIV/AIDS together?
We must push against the stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS to remove the secrecy and shame around getting tested.
In keeping with this year’s theme for World AIDS Day; Global solidarity shared responsibility – you have a role in helping to increase awareness about HIV, improve the quality of life of those who have the disease, and also reduce the stigma around HIV.
Know Your HIV Status
If you do not know your HIV status or have had unprotected sex recently, you need to get tested. Remember, there is a window period of up to 6 months from exposure to the virus when it can be detected via tests. The truth is that there is no reason why you should not know your HIV status. So, get tested now! Then do it again within 6 months.
Encourage your partner and friends to get tested
You can never be sure of a person’s HIV status without a test. So, before engaging in a sexual act with anyone, it is vital that the person also knows their HIV status. Encourage your close friends to get tested too. Remember, the best outcome for HIV is achieved when it is detected early enough for effective care.
Shun stigmatization In Any Form
Do not participate in the exclusion of HIV positive people in your community. Integrate them into regular activities, and don’t engage in shaming them or treating them differently. If the discrimination around HIV reduces, then more people will be willing to get tested, because there will be no fear of being ostracized if they turn out to be positive.
Organize Awareness Campaigns & Screening Drives
Within your church, mosque, academic, or residential community, you can run awareness campaigns to debunk myths around HIV/AIDS and provide people with accurate health information. You can also organize HIV screening drives in concert with NGOs that are focused on matters of sexual health and HIV.
Campaigns like these have been the bedrock of the HIV campaign in Nigeria.
Empower The Poor, Women & The Girl Child
Within your means as an individual, or a community, you need to play your part in empowering vulnerable populations in our society; the poor, women, and the girl child, economically and educationally. The more educated and economically empowered vulnerable groups are, the better their choices when it comes to their sexual health. This development will lead to a reduction in the transmission of HIV/AIDS among these groups.
It will also help increase their access to quality health care and HIV treatment for those that are positive.
By Dr. Okonkwor Oyor C.