You can never tell who’s got HIV! Anyone can be HIV+ and not know it- including you! People who are HIV+ can speak any language, be young or old, skinny or hunky or curvy. I’ll be honest and tell you the reason as to why I am writing about this topic. It is based on a true incident in Delhi. Alok and his four friends had just completed their first year of management in 2013. For their semester break, they were crossing Delhi where they unanimously decided to halt at a red light area just to experience the fun for the first time! They hired a sex worker that night and booked a room in a lodge nearby. The next morning, after paying the worker, they departed for their homes. A week later Alok became suspicious of the activity which they had undergone and questioned about its safety. Very hesitatingly he approached a counsellor via a helpline number and narrated to him the activity of that night. The counsellor suggested him to get the sex worker tested at a nearby centre, as they could not test him directly (The window period of HIV may vary from 3 months to 3 years!) The next day, he persuaded the same worker to undergo the test, after paying her huge amount again. The results came a day later and to his worst nightmare, they were positive… Alok is a fictional name, but the story is real! Alok and his friends were students of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
A survey was performed by NACO (National Aids Control Organisation). When asked a majority of youth about the HIV virus and AIDS, 90% of them had no idea about this disease, leave aside its cause and protection from it. AIDS has caused an estimated 36 million deaths worldwide (as of 2012) and approximately 35.3 million people are living with HIV globally. The HIV prevalence trend in the country shows that female sex workers (FSWs) and injecting drug users (IDUs) have disproportionately higher incidence of HIV infection. About 86% HIV incidence in the country is from unprotected sex. Perinatal transmission of the infection is 2.72%, whereas 2.57% HIV infection is due to transfusion of infected blood or blood products. HIV transmission through injected needle accounts for 1.97% of overall prevalence.
HIV is transmitted through three main routes: sexual contact, exposure to infected body fluids or tissues and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding (known as vertical transmission). Many individuals develop an influenza-like illness or a mononucleosis-like illness 2-4 weeks post exposure while others have no significant symptoms. Symptoms occur in 40-90% of cases and most commonly include fever, large tender lymph nodes, throat inflammation, a rash, headache and/or sores of the mouth and genitals. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea may occur occasionally.
ABC of safe sex
NACO recommends young people the ABC approach in their sexual behaviour:
A- Abstinence. It encourages adolescents and youth to delay their sexual debut.
B- Being faithful. NACO advocates monogamous relationship, where both partners share a sexual relationship only with each other. Such a relation is based on mutual respect.
C- Correct and consistent use of contraception such as condoms to prevent from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
I’ll be writing a few words on the treatment of this disease after detection. A course of antiretroviral administered 48-72 hours after exposure to HIV-positive blood is referred to as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). The duration of PEP is usually four weeks. Such people who are exposed to HIV should follow up HIV testing in 6, 12 and 24 weeks. Programs to prevent vertical transmission of HIV from others to children during pregnancy and after birth in the infant can be reduced by 92-99%. Antiretroviral drugs are referred to as ARV. ARVs reduce the viral load, the amount of virus in the bloodstream. HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) is also employed in certain cases. Interestingly, with use of antiretroviral 96% of the partners are protected from infection. HAART and RT saved almost 7,00,00 lives in 2010. As of today, 9.7 million people are receiving ATV across the globe. People living with HIV can currently expect to live a normal life span if able to achieve durable viral suppression on combination ART. This greatly increases life expectancy and leaves more drugs available to the individual should the need arise.
I saw a movie, Kinsey (2004) recently. The protagonist, PROK (Professor Kinsey) asks his fellow mate who is sceptical about sex education:
“Why not address the need for sex instruction that deals frankly with students’ real questions, concerns?”
People find it easier to simply ignore this fundamental aspect of human condition. They are so eager to be a part of the ignorant group that they’ll betray their own nature to get there. If something pleasurable and strongly desired is prohibited, it becomes an obsession.
As of 2012 there is no effective vaccine for HIV or AIDS. A single trial of the vaccine RV 144 published in 2009 found a partial reduction in the risk of transmission by roughly 30%; further trials are ongoing. I conclude by the old saying, prevention is better than cure! And considering this case, where cure is not possible, prevention is the only tool and to utilise this tool, the youth should be informed and fully aware. Several websites are there where one can find more information regarding this topic. Counsellors and doctors are present in every district hospital and regional government health centres.
Hotline helpline number can be obtained from the NACO website:
Spread the word and bring the change!