Notorious for being known as one of the gravest pandemics, AIDS (Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome) is a destructive disease that attacks the body's immune system and is caused by HIV, the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus. Globally symbolised by a red ribbon, AIDS plagues over 36 million people worldwide. However, only 1% of those annual cases are recorded in Bangladesh.
World AIDS Day is marked on December 1 every year to raise awareness and unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The theme this year is -- Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability and Partnerships -- and various support groups, HIV/AIDS Prevention Projects and many educational programmes have been jointly organised by the Bangladeshi government, UNICEF and the World Bank. These aim to offer solidarity with HIV victims and present AIDS as a critical but treatable disease, instead of a hushed taboo.
But hushing taboos isn't an overnight task. The first step of the movement is communication. Misinformation and misconception team up to power negative feelings and prejudice against HIV victims. Fear of expulsion from society, being deemed morally irresponsible and judgmental links to drug abuse and promiscuity -- the stigma enveloping HIV is overwhelming. It's no surprise that thousands choose silence and look the other way when it's important to remember to simply begin by talking about it.
However, plain talking is only half the battle. Trudge along with slow, baby steps to a more educated nation and debunk unsupported myths.
HIV may very well be a viral disease but it is not contagious through physical contact such as hugs and hand-shakes, sharing food/utensils or even via air and water, for e.g. from coughs or swimming pools. Only through the contact of bodily fluids such as blood and unsterilized needles do you actually run a risk of infection.
But infections can be prevented; even treated. Doctor's orders are safe practices and good hygiene, along with getting tested every 3 months. You can also opt for an HIV combo test which can detect the virus in its early stages. If you think you have been at risk of HIV, go for PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), a medication aimed to prevent HIV in advance whereas infected blood in your body can be counteracted with PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). Moreover, Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) has proven to be a groundbreaking HIV treatment.
Still, the fact that the disease is ultimately incurable remains.
However, HIV is not a death sentence. It is just an infection after all. It has no cure but timely medications can keep it in check, while even boosting a healthy immune system. With the proper consultations from physicians, an HIV-positive patient can even prevent the eventual diagnosis of AIDS.
The battle against HIV/AIDS is almost at the finish line. Bring it home by standing tall as a community, unanimous in support, acceptance and elimination of transmission. Only then can we champion ourselves for an AIDS-free generation.