If the world does not rapidly scale up in the next five years, the epidemic is likely to spring back with a higher rate of new HIV infections than today (UNAIDS 2014).
December 1st of every year is set aside by the United Nations as the World AIDS day. It is commemorated with the adornment of the red ribbon, yet some people still don’t know their status. This day is used to promote awareness about HIV/AIDS and to assess the successes so far in the fight against AIDS epidemic.
The most important aspect of the fight against AIDS is reducing the numbers of new infections, ensuring access to anti-retroviral (ARV) medications and the prevention of mother to child transmission. This could be significantly achieved through education of our people and promoting access to the right and most up-to-date information.
We cannot properly mark this day without refreshing our knowledge on the disease state itself. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus attacks the immune system of the human host causing a reduction in its ability to fight infections and diseases. It is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids with an infected person. This usually includes unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing of sharp unsterilised objects and from mother to child.
There is currently no known cure or vaccine for HIV. There are only medicines available for infected individuals requiring treatment. Most infected people who take their medicines as directed by their healthcare providers have been known to live normal healthy lives.
The World Health Organisation estimates the number of people in the world living with HIV at about 34 million. The virus is most common in Sub-Saharan Africa with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique topping the list. In the United Kingdom for instance the National Health Service has determined the high risk groups for HIV contamination to be gay and bisexual men and African men and women. To break this vicious cycle, there is an urgent need for mass advocacy programmes, education and voluntary counselling and testing.
In its usual pro-active approach the United Nations through the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has set up action plans to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The new set of targets that would need to be reached by 2020 include achieving 90-90-90: 90% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status on treatment; and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.
With Black people being a high risk group for HIV contamination, we must bear in mind that the fight against AIDS should remain a collective effort.
Notwithstanding, I believe the task that lies ahead is not insurmountable. In Nigeria for instance, the Ebola Virus Disease was contained so efficiently. One begins to wonder, if we had managed the AIDS epidemic in similar fashion we might have been completely rid of the disease by now.
Over the years a lot of progress has been recorded in the level of awareness and access to treatment in Nigeria. Most of the intervention has been through funding from international donors. It is about time African governments adopt a more pro-active approach to ensure sustainable funding for major health interventions such as HIV/AIDS or even Ebola Virus Disease. But, we all need to do more to diminish the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in communities across Africa, and then encourage people who need to know their status to do so immediately.
Play your part. Get tested and #knowyoustatus