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International AIDS Day

SOUTH AFRICA | Tuesday, 1 December 2009 | Views [889] | Comments [1]

All around the world today, communities are celebrating International AIDS Day. It may seem paradoxical to see the words "celebrate" and "AIDS" in the same sentence, but sometimes just what is needed when fighting one of the worst of our modern-day scourges is a celebration.

This day gives all people - doctors, social workers, governments, and citizens alike - the chance to simply come together to share, reflect, reach out, and raise awareness about the battle against HIV/AIDS. All too often, those involved in the humanitarian and development sectors are so busy and focused on their own specific projects that they rarely communicate with others working in the same area. Today is a reminder to the whole world that HIV/AIDS is still very much a massive obstacle to basic survival and human development, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"HIV" stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus. It can be acquired through the transmission of bodily fluids during risky activities such as unprotected sex and sharing of needles with an HIV-positive person. It is also possible for an HIV-positive woman to pass on the virus to her baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, but with proper treatment, the risk of transmission can be greatly reduced.

An HIV-positive person develops AIDS (Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome) when his or her immune system is no longer able to fight off diseases and infections. People living with AIDS can die of diseases such as Tuberculosis that are contracted because of their weakened immune systems - i.e. they don't die of AIDS itself. It is possible for people living with AIDS to look perfectly normal and to live long and healthy lives with the proper medication, known as Anti-Retro Virals (ARVs).

One of the biggest obstacles to widespread treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa is the lack of access to inexpensive and generic forms of ARVs. Most ARVs are produced by major pharmaceutical companies that have monopolies over the patents of 'name-brand' versions. AIDS activists around the world have been relentless in pushing companies to start producing generic forms of ARVs that Africans can actually afford.

Since HIV often debilitates people's immune systems, it is critical for patients to try to pursue healthy lifestyles, including physical activity and a balanced diet. There is also a lot of social stigma around HIV and AIDS: all too often, those afflicted are too embarrassed to even tell their families and friends and suffer in isolation; sometimes they are even ostracized or beaten if others in the community find out.

Here in South Africa, an estimated 1 in 5 people are infected with HIV and 1000 people die of AIDS-related diseases every day. South Africa has the highest number of infections in the world and thus is often the focal point of AIDS Day. Earlier today, President Jacob Zuma pledged to treat all HIV-positive babies, expand HIV testing programs, and increase access to ARVs across the country. This is a drastic change from former President Thabo Mbeki's stance, which infamously denied the causal link between HIV and AIDS and encouraged people to treat HIV with garlic and beetroot rather than ARVs. Some activists recently called for Mbeki to be prosecuted for genocide, based on the hundred of thousands of premature deaths allegedly caused by his administration's policies.

A recent report released by UNAIDS and WHO shows a 15% reduction in HIV infections in Africa. Although that still means that hundreds of thousands of people are being infected every year, worldwide HIV prevention programs are working. So, even though Zuma's administration won't solve everything, the government's recognition of and commitment to the issue is a huge first step.

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Thank you honey, I am now much better informed.
love, mom

  mom Dec 9, 2009 12:22 PM

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