Published on November 27, 2013 | by Edwige Dubois

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Children of Ignorance

ALN features writer, Edwige Dubois [Ekaterina Anchevskaya]

Questioning LCC students on AIDS and HIV has made me realise I was far from being the only one to know so little about these conditions.

The acronyms AIDS and HIV have been part of our information environment since the early 80’s. Have we become desensitised to the red ribbon?When I see posters and campaigns, I recognise the cause and know what it stands for. Somehow, I never felt truly concerned until now.

The messages about HIV and AIDS are disseminated throughout our culture but people seem to have difficulty in applying them at the right moments in their lives. For instance, how many people do you know uses condoms during oral sex?

Why don’t people see HIV as a potential threat to their lives? It is as if it is a health issue affecting countries in Africa, somewhere far away, or a disease from the 80’s that is not current anymore, that it belongs to the gay world or that only drug addicts can get it.

There is an ignorant mind-set that says it just happens to others, elsewhere.

These prejudices resulted in a quarter of people living with HIV in the UK in 2011 not being aware of their infection, simply because they did not think it could happen to them and had not been tested.

HIV is shrouded in society by fear, stigma, ignorance and shame even if the fight against it is well entrenched in most modern countries.

Maybe people find it difficult to face their own prejudices as addressing AIDS and HIV involves many social and personal taboos — death, sexuality, sexual practices, race and gender. Stigma can be fought with accurate information.

One of the most striking misunderstandings is that HIV can be transmitted through saliva. The virus is only passed on by infected semen, vaginal fluids, blood or breast milk — with 90 per cent of people infected through sexual contact.

A person will not be at risk of infection by kissing, touching or living with someone with HIV. They can drink from the same cups and use the same toilets.

Only having protected sex is no reason not to take an HIV test. Condoms are not 100% reliable and HIV can be transmitted through the blood, including from tattoos or piercing tools that are not sterilised properly.

Although facts about sex are taught in schools, pupils might struggle to take in information at a time when they are discovering their sexuality with fear, shame and prudery coming into play.

Young girls are more fearful of unwanted pregnancy than sexually transmitted diseases and feel protected if they use the pill.

It seems people do not consider themselves as candidates for HIV test because the stigma around HIV is associated with dirtiness — drug use, poverty or rape.

The stigmatisation is reinforced by the fact that a person infected by HIV is a potential criminal.

Laws are in place under which someone can be prosecuted for knowingly transmitting HIV to another person, and are legitimate.

HIV is the virus and AIDS is the disease, the late stage of the infection.

The virus attacks the body’s defence system by killing crucial immune system cells.

If the virus is detected early enough, the infected person will get a treatment that will let him have an almost normal life span and a relatively healthy life — HIV cannot be cured but the treatment keeps the virus under control.

However, if there is no effective treatment applied at an early stage, the immune system will become very weak, it will not be able to fight off diseases and the virus can potentially develop into AIDS.

Although recently infected people generally experience a flu-like illness few weeks after, some HIV positive persons have no signs or symptoms for years.

The only way to be certain you are not HIV positive is to do a test. Getting a test done is free, simple, shameless and essential.

The test is most commonly done as a blood test but there are alternatives if you don’t feel at ease with needles; through saliva sample or a finger pricked.

World AIDS Day will take place on December 1, so let’s raise our awareness, get our facts straight and have a test done — it’s free in sexual health clinics in the United Kingdom.

Numbers (data form 2011):

  • 34 millions of people live with HIV
  • 96,000 are infected by HIV in the UK (with 23 per cent unaware of their infection)
  • HIV is transmitted in 90 per cent of the cases through sexual contact (oral, vaginal and anal sex).
  • A test costs £90 to the government
Probable exposure category % of total receiving HIV specialist care in the UK
Heterosexual contact 49%
Sex between men 43%
Injecting drug use 2%
Mother-to-child transmission 2%
Blood/blood products recipient 1%
Other/Unknown 2%
100%

 

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