December 1, 1988, marked the first ever World Aids Day, an event created to raise awareness of Aids and HIV and to mourn those who had died of the disease.
Thankfully, an awful lot has changed since those days of terrifying public health campaigns, pictures of skeletal victims dying horrific, painful deaths. Medical breakthroughs have transformed what it means to be diagnosed with HIV, and people with the infection can now live full, healthy lives.
But while medical developments have been amazing, general awareness hasn’t really kept up, and a new survey out today confirms that many outdated myths about HIV are still widespread –worryingly, more than half of Indians don’t know what HIV is and how it is transmitted.
The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data findings, released by the Health Ministry on Tuesday night, reveal widespread ignorance about HIV/AIDS among adults in India. According to the latest data, nearly 82 per cent women and nearly 70 per cent men — in the 13 States surveyed under phase 1 of NFHS4 — lacked comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS and safe sex practices.
For the record, HIV can be passed on through sex without a condom – in both heterosexuals and gay couples, and by sharing needles or syringes (because of the direct bloodstream-to-bloodstream transmission). And NO, you will not catch it from dirty toilet seats or drinking from the same cup or even shaking hands!!
Through this blog post, I intend to clarify some common myths about HIV AIDS. Let’s look at some of them.
Myth 1: You’re going to be highly contagious forever
It may amaze many people to hear it, but HIV treatments have advanced so much that now, drugs can actually prevent people from being infectious, because they lower a person’s viral load (the amount of HIV in the bloodstream) so much that it becomes undetectable.
This doesn’t happen immediately, it takes a few months, and it’s recommended that you keep checking for a further six months to check that your viral load remains at that level. Once it’s deemed stable, the risk of passing on the virus is virtually non-existent.
Myth 2: People with HIV will die in a few years
It’s true that back in the 80s, when HIV dominated the headlines, the prognosis was a bleak one. Now however, provided you receive treatment, there’s usually no reason why you can’t live as full, healthy and long a life as the next person.
A healthy lifestyle can help support the treatment too. Starting treatment quickly obviously helps, so it’s best if diagnosis isn’t delayed.
Myth 3: Your sex life is ruined if you have HIV
Again, those viral load-lowering meds mean it’s very possible for individuals and couples living with HIV to enjoy a fulfilling sex life.
Of course, it’s advisable for everybody to practice safe sex (with a condom) when sleeping with new partners, or until you’ve both had up-to-date sexual health checks, but HIV does not need to spell the end of your love life.
Myth 4: Your kids will be born with HIV
Thanks to advancements in treatment it is very possible for women with HIV to give birth to HIV-free children.
If they’re being treated during pregnancy and their viral load is undetectable, the risk of mum-to-baby transmission is less than 1%. Sometimes, but not always, a C-section delivery is advised. Men with HIV can also father healthy children.
Myth 5: Your friends and colleagues have a right to know if you have HIV
According to research by the National Aids Trust, 37% of people feel they should be told if one of their work colleagues has HIV.
“A completely unnecessary requirement, as it would be impossible to transmit HIV in a day-to-day working environment,” says the NAT. Misplaced fear is trumping someone’s right to privacy and respect!
There may be benefits to telling your employer, as it enables them to be understanding of any needs you might have, like appointments for instance, but often it’s a personal choice.
We’re taught to fear HIV and AIDS like plagues — inevitable death sentences upon diagnosis.
But that’s simply not true, and it’s taken an unexpected source to point out the gaps and inaccuracies surrounding how we talk about HIV — actor and all-around controversial figure Charlie Sheen.
To address the stigma around HIV and AIDS, it’s important to confront myths surrounding the virus head-on. It’s these myths that cause social stigmatisation. Step up. Care. Persons with AIDS are as human as you are! This World Aids Day, take a pledge to stand up for the afflicted while also spreading the word about the disease. Burst the myths and give a lease of life-of love, respect and dignity to our friends who are trapped in the quagmire of social ostracisation due to AIDS.