Breaking the Stigma

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STIGMA KILLS:

There was this 4 years old boy who belongs to a very humble family. He was so adorable and loved by everyone in the neighborhood. The neighborhood was so friendly and loving that they all knew each other and took care of everybody as if they were 1 family. The boy used to play in the streets with his fellow friends. His parents were so happy that they have given birth to a wonderful child and raised him and cared for him like a curator to Mona Lisa. So the years passed and the boy turned 23. He graduated from college with excellent grades and was not indulged in any unhealthy activity like smoking or drinking. Any boy or girl after the age of 18 starts receiving the sexual urges and it increases as they grow older. The boy got attracted to a girl outside his neighborhood and they became friends. Later on they fall in love with each other and both fall prey to their sexual urges. They started dating and were sexually active without letting their parents know. While his fellow friends were also sexually active with their partners, they were only lucky enough to dodge the potential infection. Unfortunately this boy fall victim to it and started vomiting and felt nausea every now and then. He went to a doctor for a regular medicine to cure vomit and nausea. As the time passed, he started suffering from persistent diarrhea, weight loss and shortness of breath. His health condition was getting worse and his parents took him to hospital. He got tested and nobody had a shred of imagination that he’s going to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. It was not so late and could still be cured. Where the boy should have started receiving treatment, what happened was just opposite to it. The parents left the hospital, took their boy to home and hid him. He was restricted not to leave the home and not to tell anyone about it. The boy who was a pearl in his early childhood became a symbol of dishonor or disgrace to his own family. The sensitive boy who grew with so much love and care, was now being treated inferiorly. He became their only child who was neglected because he was stained with AIDS. Parents and siblings stopped getting near to him and gave him a separate room as if the boy himself was a contagious disease. The boy was so devastated and humiliated with the shame that he decided to end this problem for his family and himself. It was the dinner time when mother covered his hands and mouth to take food for him in his room and saw his child hanged with noose around his neck. He committed suicide. 

Conventionally, had the boy used protection for a safe sex, he would have been alive and cleaned. That’s how the culprits cover up their end of story and dusts the grave. Where the fact of the matter is that the parents or school never educated the children about safe sex. They were never taught about HIV/AIDS. Had someone educated the boy about possible adversities associated with unprotected sex, the boy would have opted the precautionary measures. He never received any education related to safe sex and HIV / AIDS in his entire academic years. Even if the boy was taken into confidence by his parents to discuss the cause of infection and received proper treatment, he would have controlled his immunity loss and lived as long as the virus could be controlled. The boy was diagnosed with early stages but contrary to optimistic approach, the parents chose to hide him out of all the options of treatment. The HIV never got the chance to kill the boy. It was the stigma that took the boy with him. Stigma got the best of the parents against which the end result was a disaster. The stigma was proven to be deadlier than HIV / AIDS. 

HIV / AIDS STATISTICS:

AIDS is one of the world’s most serious health challenges caused by the virus known as HIV. This diseases neither has a gender preferences nor age preference. It does not have a qualifying criteria. HIV does not give preference to any specific human color, race, ethnicity, religion and height. It does not have a specific or limited region within which it would affect the public. The significance of HIV / AIDS to general public is real and the world has already moved into direction of prevention of HIV / AIDS. It is one of the most prevalent diseases that can found in almost every region in the world. Since the beginning of this disease, around 75 million people have been affected with the virus and around 32 million have died. Statistic shows that currently 37.9 million people were found infected living with HIV virus worldwide till the end of 2018 out of which 36.2 million were adults and 1.7 million were children under the age of 15. The newly infected individuals in year 2018 were 1.7 million worldwide out of which 1.6 million were adults or over the age of 15 and 160,000 were children or under the age of 15. Horrific part of the statistics is that 21% of 37.9 million people does not have any idea that they are infected with the virus. People died of HIV / AIDS in year 2018 were 770,000. This seems a lot of casualties where the truth of the matter is that the number of casualties has been decreased by 55% since the peak of 1.7 million in 2004 and 1.4 million in 2010. 

HIV TESTING AND TREATMENT:

Researchers and medical practitioners has encouraged the public to break the stigma and get their HIV tested and if diagnosed, treated. The campaigns held against HIV / AIDS worldwide have already helped millions of people and made the treatment accessible with no shame.  Around 79% of people with HIV worldwide knew their HIV status and opted the treatment in year 2018. While the remaining 21% still need an access to HIV testing services. Getting tested is the first step to prevention and treatment of HIV. 

The recommended treatment for HIV is called Antiretroviral Therapy more commonly known as ART. The HIV directly affects the cells called CD4 and destroys immune system of the body. ART treatment is a combination of regular medication that helps protect CD4 cells and keeps the immune system strong enough to prevent the disease to spread. The purpose of this treatment is to reduce the viral load to undetectable. People taking ART treatment having a viral load to undetectable are more likely to be clean and does not transfer the virus even with a sex without condom. Undetectable viral load does not mean that the disease is cured. HIV always remains there and if the medication is stopped, the HIV will start attacking CD4 cells and the viral load will increase. There are more than 25 Antiretroviral Therapy medications approved to treat the virus. It suppresses the viral load and also helps to reduce the risk of complications associated with HIV. Antiretroviral Therapy treatment access is a way to end AIDS as a public health threat. People diagnosed and aware of their HIV are taking their prescribed drugs daily to gain undetectable viral load and live longer and healthier lives. 23.3 million People with HIV that makes 62% of total diagnosed with HIV were accessing ART treatment globally in year 2018. Given the global situation of HIV/AIDS epidemic, United Nation came up with the program of their own known as UNAIDS. They consider ending the epidemic of AIDS a historic obligation to those 37 million people who died of AIDS. UNAIDS has set an ambitious but achievable target by year 2020. The UNAIDS call it a 90-90-90 program and following is the representation of it.

  • The first 90 represents that by year 2020, 90% of public living with HIV will know their HIV status and viral load.
  • The second 90 represents that by year 2020, 90% of public knowing their viral load and HIV status will receive Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).
  • The third 90 represents that by year 2020, 90% of public receiving Antiretroviral Therapy will have their viral suppressed and virus decreases to undetectable.

However the target is not likely to be achieved with due time but the progress has been commendable. In year 2018, 79% of all HIV infected people knew their viral status, 78% of them received the treatment of Antiretroviral Therapy to suppress the viral and 86% got the desired result and their viral was undetectable.

MYTHS AND FACTS:

There are many myths that surrounds HIV and AIDS but they are based on wrong information and play on people’s fear of the unknown. Not everything we hear about HIV / AIDS can be true because there is a lot of misunderstanding related to this virus. With a firm knowledge of truth and facts about HIV / AIDS, we can bust the misconceptions and myths and save us a lot of time and worry. It is time we bust the myths and share some facts.

MYTHS:

  • The treatment of HIV has terrible side effects and can do more harm than good.
  • This virus is Man-made.
  • HIV can be transmitted from one body to another even by an everyday social contact.
  • We must not start taking anti-HIV drugs until we feel ill.
  • HIV is curable.
  • HIV infected persons can pass the infection to another every time they had sex.
  • Nutritional supplements and herbs can cure HIV or can be as effective as anti-HIV drugs.
  • Married people can’t get HIV.
  • Pharmaceutical industry has found the cure to HIV but they have kept it secret in order to gain profit by selling their drugs.

FACTS:

  • Most people develop AIDS, become seriously ill and die because they avoid taking anti-HIV drugs. If HIV treatment is taken, most side effects are gone in few weeks with no long-term consequences. Even if one drugs causes problems, the doctor can always replace the drugs with an alternate one. The anti-HIV drug consumers get their health carefully monitored and it helps them live a healthy and long life. 
  • The virus is not man-made. Scientists believe that the HIV is a similar virus found in Chimpanzees and it was transmitted when a man was hunting chimpanzees and the wounded and infected chimpanzee’s blood transferred into man’s blood stream. 
  • You cannot get HIV with casual contact. It doesn’t get shared by kissing, hugging, sharing cutlery, baths or from sneezes. It is only passed when fluid like semen, blood and vagina fluid from one body gets into another body. Transfer of saliva doesn’t transfer HIV.
  • HIV treatment should be taken immediately when diagnosed because HIV is no curable. It can only be suppressed by the virus never disappears. It remains into several parts of body such as intestine. If taking treatment or anti-HIV drugs is stopped, the virus starts spreading throughout the body. This virus silently damages and weakens the immune system. The virus turns into infection and then into AIDS that leads to death. Future illness can be prevented once the treatment is received in good time.
  • The woman doesn’t get pregnant every time she has sex until the sperm is transferred into her. Just like that, if condom is used correctly or if infected person is taking anti-HIV drugs, there are very less chances that the disease would be transferred.
  • Herbs and supplements might be good for regular health but it cannot be used to prevent the spread of HIV. Although scientists have discovered that some herbs and supplement have stopped anti-HIV drugs to work correctly. Only anti-HIV drugs are proven to be effective in stopping the disease to spread and suppress the virus. 
  • Millions of HIV infected persons were diagnosed after getting married or after year of marriage. After marriage, if one of the partners is infected with HIV and they have unprotected sex then the diseases gets transferred. In case of long term stable relationship, if one of the partners becomes unfaithful and has unprotected sex with someone who was infected, the diseases gets transferred. 
  • There are multiple drug companies who make anti-HIV drugs and they are competitive to each other. It is understood that if a single company had come up with a cure, they would have sold it in the market and had made a fortune out of it. There is no cure found for HIV virus but the drug companies are working hard to increase the effectiveness of the drug to suppress the virus.

BREAK THE STIGMA:

HIV and Stigma goes hand in hand because stigma is rooted into HIV. Where there is HIV, there is the stigma. Stigma is a preconceived opinion in which an individual is labelled and considered a part of group that is socially unacceptable. This is also called social stigma. The primary cause of stigma is lack of awareness and information along with conventional false beliefs. Stigma might be caused by myths but the effects are disastrous and real such as discrimination. Stigma and discrimination reinforces social inequalities such as race, ethnicity, gender and culture. It also affects the emotional and mental health of infected ones. They start developing negative self-image and disgusts by themselves. People with HIV / AIDS has this perception that how the society will think about them.  This influences their decision of getting a treatment or a medical care and coping strategies. The infected people often encounter many faces of stigma and discrimination in multiple ways like in their own home, community, social media, work place and many more. Stigma and discrimination related to HIV / AIDS exists worldwide. It remains barrier that might discourage vulnerable population from getting tested and seeking appropriate treatment. As a result, the affected people feel suffocated, loneliness and left out. They have lost their marriages, incomes and livelihood. They have also lost the hope to recover and rejoin the society to live a regular life. They feel that they don’t have a place in this world anymore. This cruelty of society comes into existence with some false beliefs caused by lack of education and information. It is believed that HIV / AIDS is a life threatening disease that leads to death and it is associated to socially disapproved behaviors such as drug abuse, homosexuality, infidelity and sex work. They believe that such infected people are being punished because of their moral fault or personal irresponsibility.  

Stigma and discrimination has an overwhelming effect on people and the world has had enough of it. Therefore it has to be eradicated against HIV / AIDS. Stigma and discrimination begins and ends with each one of us. It is important to realize that the disease should be hated and not the diseased. HIV / AIDS can never win until it has stigma, discrimination, stain, shame and ignorance on its side. Every time HIV / AIDS was defeated, it was the dialogues, trust, confidence, openness, support from family, individuals and community and human solidarity was on its side that helped to find new solutions. Breaking the stigma is the process of saving people from committing suicide. It is important to educate yourself first and then educate others about the actual facts related to HIV / AIDS. The affected ones must know what to do when they feel they are being stigmatized. Knowing the actual facts about how HIV / AIDS is transmitted can also help to stop stigmatization. One of the reasons of transmission of HIV / AIDS is having unprotected sex with someone having HIV. Contaminated organ transplants and blood transfusions can cause HIV / AIDS. Sharing equipment or using non-sterilized equipment to inject drugs and a mother giving birth to her child can also cause HIV / AIDS. This is reason that pregnant ladies are advised for a regular checkup for several diseases including HIV. This disease doesn’t transfer by kissing, hugging, bathing, toilet seats, sweat, sharing food and insect bites. It is the responsibility of everyone including the diseased to know and understand how to respond in a scenario where the stigmatization is taking effect. 

Dying by the disease is still justifiable than dying from discrimination. It is important to break the stigma in order to prevent suicides. The mental illness caused by stigma and discrimination is still treatable and recoverable only if stigmatization process stops. Even if an affected person gathers courage and enables himself to combat stigma, he can also save number of other infected people. Hiding your disease and maintaining silence is the process of self-stigmatization and it only worsens the situation. On the other hand, talking openly might normalize the subject and give you an opportunity to help other learn about HIV and correct the misconceptions.  Breaking the stigma requires equal effort from both the infected people and the community around them. If someone speaks about their disease or mental health, it should be appreciated that they felt comfortable to share their story. This is a positive way to treatment and combat both stigma and disease. Confidence is contagious. If an infected person raises his voice for himself to get a proper treatment and live healthy and happy life, other stigmatized persons may find it an opportunity to open up their selves and this process spreads like a fire in the woods. It is possible for infected people to live long and healthy life. We can help them by giving them equal space in our community and showing love, support and respect. If a person confesses about having HIV / AIDS, instead of asking how he got affected, we must appreciate him that he trusted us and talked about it openly. As much as the infected has responsibility to combat discrimination and stigma, we are equally responsible to help them combat because stigma and discrimination is caused by the community we live in. Our supportive behavior can help reduce their stress. The accessibility to condoms should be easier than ever and there should be no shame is purchasing it. There should be HIV / AIDS testing programs and seminars related to safe sex and HIV / AIDS must be conducted in institutes. It is important to learn the HIV disclosure etiquettes. If someone discloses his disease, instead of asking, “how did you get infected or how long it has been”, ask him “have you started a treatment?” and tell him that he will be fine and he is not alone. When an individual learns that he is HIV positive, they go through the traumatized experience of their life. They even feel sad, scared and angry and that’s all very natural. That’s the moment where we are tested with our responsibility to share the comfort with infected people and let them know that nothing has changed. Don’t ever let the stigma or discrimination roam around the infected people. HIV should never stop the affect people from living a long, happy and healthy life.

FAMOUS VICTIMS OF HIV:

Magic Johnson: He is not only a former basket-ball star but also a hero on many levels. He is one of the first celebrities who publicly announced about their diagnosis of positive HIV. Magic Johnson made the announcement in 1991 which was an era of false beliefs and misconceptions. On the other hand, the announcement was a wakeup call for all the straight males who believed that could never be infected with HIV. Johnson retired from L.A Lakers but he played NBA All-Star game in 1992. He helped the US Olympic team to win gold in same year. Johnson announced that he has to retire because of the disease he got but he plans to live a long time. After 25 long years, Johnson has not just executed his good plans but he is also involved in sports as a commentator. Magic Johnson also happens to own a Magic Johnson Foundation which is an educational organization that helps in prevention of HIV infection. 

Greg Louganis: He is not just an Olympic Sports Athlete but also a Gold Medal winner from two Olympic Games. The Olympic diving champion was diagnose with HIV in 1988 when he was only 28. Since he was also a part of general public of year 1988, he thought of it as a death sentence. He suffered depression and anxiety and he couldn’t get out of bed if he had a day off. Greg Louganis used his passion of diving as a force to keep fighting the stigma and HIV. His doctor encouraged him to continue his training for Olympics because that would be that healthiest thing for him. After 3 decades, Louganis remains an inspiration to both the athletes and the victims of HIV. He has set an example that HIV-positive cannot stop the happy and healthy life you are already living. He has proven that HIV and stigma can be defeated. 

Charlie Sheen: Mr. Sheen is an American Actor who was diagnosed with HIV-positive in 2011 but he chose to disclose in 2015. He also stated that he didn’t know what caused him an infection. Charlie Sheen confessed not just about his disease but also that he has spent more than $10 million to shut the mouth of people who knew about it. This was not less than a cause for his depression because he was losing his hard earned money just to hide his infection. However Sheen gathered courage to publically announce his disease. Charlie Sheen considers it his responsibility and sees it as an opportunity to help other affected people. He now seeks every opportunity better himself and a lot of other people. Since his announcement, Sheen has become spokesman for a Swedish Condom Brand and a public advocate for safe sex.

SURVIVORS NOT VICTIMS:

The HIV-positive people are courageous enough to survive in the world where stigma and discrimination still exists. The only way to end this horrible disease is to end stigma and discrimination. These survivors only ask for a friend, a helping hand and a hug. They just want to be treated equally in a community as a normal people. The responsibility goes to every individual to help the HIV infected in their surroundings. Let’s defeat the HIV and stigma together and save lives of wonderful people out there. 

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