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Tuesday, December 1 the world marked World’s AIDS Day. This day, since 1988, is designated to bring awareness to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) which is caused by the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Five years ago the United Nations (UN) set an ambitious goal to end HIV/AIDS “as a public health threat” by 2030. According to the online sciencemag.org this “campaign rests on a mathematical model that says the epidemic will peter out if enough people keep the virus in check.”
A 15-year timeframe to end an epidemic that has brought untold sufferings to societies and shame on the afflicted and their relatives couldn’t be more welcomed. When HIV was discovered in the 1980s it did not come without the usual mythology and negative stereotyping of those who society thought were susceptible to the virus. When HIV moved to AIDS, affecting the body’s ability to fend off common diseases such as the minor influenza and cold, the seriousness of the virus began hitting home.
Thankfully science, including pharmaceuticals, has had measured success in being better able to understand the virus, how it is spread, how to control the spread, and prevent contracting the disease. The science has advanced to the stage where infected persons are not only able to access the requisite medication but have been able to live normal lives. Through medication some have seen the viral load suppressed to the level of being undetectable and where they cannot transmit to others.
Scientific advancements have not only given the infected hope but also societies where the disease once ravished generations and lowered productivity. HIV/AIDS is a public health threat and has had a debilitating impact on economies (countries). Once there is no cure the disease remains a problem. To Guyana’s benefit successive governments have continued to partner with international organisations, such as the UN, World Health Organisation and World Bank in fighting the scourge.
Public education by the Ministry of Health, and in partnership with non-governmental organisations such as the trade union, Artistes In Direct Support (AIDS) and other groups has resulted in tremendous ongoing work in helping citizens to understand the disease, and provide care and support for the infected. The role of community activists and organisations should never be underestimated. Often serving as the first point of contact, sometimes even before the family or partner, activists have provided needed support in navigating the medical and socio-economic intricacies of coping with the disease and living normal lives.
Encouragingly, the fight against HIV/AIDS is one of the few areas Guyanese, after getting over the initial misunderstanding and negative stereotyping, have been able to pull together. It proves our capacity and capability to unite in solving a problem, some even grudgingly accepted, that does not discriminate against class, creed or race. With knowledge not only came the power to understand prevention but also management, reducing stigmatisation and isolation once prevalent. Avoid sharing needles and having unprotected sex are still valuable and worthwhile lessons. Thus far these remain the best prevention.
The 2030 goal, though ambitious, is doable. What is also encouraging is that the goal is driven by targets which organisations and countries have made public their commitment to achieve and are working toward this end. For 2020 the UNAIDS has set the target to include, “90-90-90 for treatment.” This means that “90% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 90% of people who know their status on treatment; and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.” This aim is “reduce the annual number of new HIV infections among adults to 500,000 [and] achieving zero discrimination.”
Undoubtedly the success of 2020 targets will be elevated, including the factors that could have impacted success or lack thereof.
Ending HIV/AIDS “as a public health threat” relies on every citizen playing his or her role to avoid being infected, seeking treatment for the infected and desist from discriminating against the infected.
Hopefully, if by 2030 a vaccine is not found the virus must no longer be a public health hazard and economies adversely affected.
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