Every December 1st is dedicated to raising awareness of an endemic pandemic, a scourge and a plague; a monster majestically roaming the Earth and mercilessly pushing humanity off the cliff of life into the bottom-less pit of death. Worldwide, in social places, in various podiums, in rallies and conferences, in institutions of learning and places of worship,it has inspired some of the most outstanding speeches, poems, songs, resolutions, undertakings and declarations. And yet, without guilt, it continues to usurp human populations. Undeterred by the efforts of humans to contain it and unmoved by the tears of the affected and infected, it unleashes its ruthlessness, every day with a renewed rage and energy.
According to the World Health Organization, it hasclaimed more than 39 million lives since the first case of infection was recorded. In 2013 alone an estimated 1.5 million people died from HIV-related causes and out of 35.0 million people living with the virus, 2.1 million, were newly infected in 2013 globally, Sub-Saharan Africa, being the mostly hit region of the world. These are by all standards, astronomically scary death rates! And worse still, 2014 could be worse!
Mark my word!
Having unprotected sex with infected persons, sharing contaminated injecting equipment like needles and syringes, receiving unsafe injections or blood transfusion and using unsterile cutting or piercing objects are some of the key risk factors of HIV/AIDS. If you engage in any of these activities, you are at a very high risk of getting infected. Of course you knew all that, I also know that you doand that you are probably wondering why I chose to repeat it here. Well it is time we walked out of the comfort zone of ‘knowing’ and began doing ‘the required’. We all know that HIV is by nature, scary, the good news however is that despite the fear it evokes, it is very preventable as it is neither airborne nor waterborne.
Yes it is. The theme of 2014 World AIDS Day is; “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS free Generation.” You will agree with me that in order to have an AIDS free Generation, two things must happen; treatment and eradication of all HIV infections or Prevention of these infections- and since presently, there is no known cure of HIV/AIDS, Prevention is the only viable option. To successfully prevent HIV infections, a thorough and up-to date education must be provided on how to limit or eliminate any exposure to any of the HIV risk factors.
Consequently, we must change our approach, the magnitude of the HIV conundrum, demands that the basic A-(Abstain), B-(be faithful), C- (Use condom) approach of handling HIV issues be improved. This approach is neither comprehensive nor in sync with the realities of the present world. In a world where abstinence is almost an abnormality, where fidelity in marriage is very rare, in which HIV Infection are more prevalent among the married than singles and where children engage in sexual relationships at very early ages, something more comprehensive must be done to remedy the situation.
We must therefore invigorate the HIV awareness by including education on preventive approaches such as the use of male and female condoms, Testing and counselling for HIV and STIs, Voluntary Male Circumcision, elimination of Mother-Child infections and the use of both Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV-negative partner and Post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PEP) against HIV infections. This segment of education must all so be complemented with education and campaign against harmful traditional practises that may either lead to or exacerbate HIV infection rates. Such practises as non-therapeutic male circumcision, wife inheritance and spouse sharing among others must be strongly condemned. There is also a need to address certain religious and cultural belief systems that oppose the use of contraceptives like condoms. Charlatans who teach their followers not to use drugs and claim to have powers to heal those who are infected with HIV/AIDS, must face the full force of the all for their actions can only lead to more infection or reinfection rates.
Finally, the contemporary world must also accept diversity. We must accept sexual minority groups like the homosexuals and gay-lesbian groups. Denying their presence or adopting draconian laws against them, will only scare them into hiding and engaging into more clandestine and unsafe relationships. When such groups are not well integrated into and within our societies, if we fail to embrace them, and if we continue to ostracize them, they will for fear of stigmatization or even lynching fail to seek medical support and that will only increase infection rates. Let us therefore remember that the only solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is prevention and the only way to prevention is Education.