Understanding HIV infection as an issue of national importance
Against all the odds, the world has made a significant progress in its fight against HIV and AIDS over the years. As we observe the World AIDS Day today, it’s appropriate that we reflect on how we could continue to work together to save the world from the disease and initiate care and support systems for those who are already living with the virus. But before that, it’s important that we have a clear understanding of what is HIV and AIDS so that we can effectively work together to create public awareness on the prevention and treatment of the disease.
HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is not a disease by itself. It is a virus that destroys the immune system of our body making us easily vulnerable and susceptible to other infections. AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the final stage of HIV infection during which the count of CD4 cells or T cells in our body drops so low that we require special treatment to help our immune system fight even the minor diseases.
Although the advanced medical science has facilitated the invention of sophisticated drugs that can control the spread of HIV infection within one’s body, there is no cure for the disease. The only thing we can do as of now is to be aware of our own HIV status and help raise awareness on the disease so that other people do not easily become the victims. December 1 is the day that reminds us every year about the importance of knowing our HIV status and how we can contribute to fighting the disease in Bhutan and across the globe.
With only one HIV case detected in 1993 in Bhutan, the current record with the Ministry of Health shows that we now have over 570 Bhutanese living with the virus out of which over 390 are already on Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART). What is more worrying is that for each detected case, it is estimated that there are 10 undetected cases. This means that we should be having at least 5,700 HIV cases in the country today. It is not surprising to believe that most of the cases remain undetected as people do not easily come forward to have HIV tests despite having the service free of cost in all major health facilities in the country.
For a small nation like Bhutan, HIV can easily become an epidemic if we do not act together to keep it at bay. It is therefore very important for each of us to understand the issue and raise awareness on the prevention of the infection so that everybody can stay safe. The fact that over 93 percent of HIV cases detected till date have been found to be transmitted through unsafe sex is very worrisome for a small population like ours. Bhutan being a liberal society, the culture of casual sex is quite common among the general population and if we do not promote the culture of safe sex, the disease can easily become a national disaster. So, it is important that you either use condoms or do not have sex at all. When the government is spending millions of Ngultrums every year on the procurement and supplies of condoms, we should at least be able to use them responsibly and help the nation stay safe from such diseases.
For those who are already living with HIV, it is important that we continue to initiate appropriate care and support services for them so that they can lead a meaningful life, free from social stigma and discrimination. The most important thing we should understand is that HIV cannot be transmitted through social contact such as kissing, sharing of drinking glasses or touching the same toilet-seat. There are only four ways in which the virus can be transmitted: through unsafe sexual intercourse, sharing of infected needles/syringes, blood transfusion and breast-feeding. There is no way one can get the virus by socializing with AIDS patients. Getting infected with HIV does not make them a monster. Like any one of us, they too deserve to live in harmony with everybody around them and be treated with respect and dignity for who they are. On this special day, I would like to wish all those who are living with HIV and AIDS a very good health. May you all continue to be blest with eternal happiness and prosperity.
(The writer blogs at amrithdiary.wordpress.com)