Since 1988, the World Health Organization, United Nations, and countries all over the globe observe World AIDS Day. December 1st is dedicated to creating and spreading awareness about the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and mourning those who have died of the disease.
For this year, “My Health, My Right” is the worldwide campaign which focuses on the right to health and explores the challenges people around the world face in exercising their rights especially when dealing with HIV/AIDS. The most marginalized people in society — sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, people in prisons and migrants, are often the least able to access their right to health; they are also the most vulnerable to HIV.
Understanding and having a broad knowledge about HIV can help prevent or reduce the risk of getting the disease. This includes being aware of signs and symptoms, transmission, and risk factors. But more than detection and treatment, being educated about HIV and AIDS is one’s best way of preventing the disease.
Below are some vital facts to know:
- The red ribbon is the global symbol for solidarity with HIV-positive people and those living with AIDS.
- HIV targets the immune system and weakens people’s defense systems against infections and some types of cancer.
- HIV is passed on through infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk, and rectal secretions. HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing of infected needles or other injecting drug equipment.
- HIV is NOT passed on through kissing, hugging, spitting, or by sharing a cup or plate. Likewise, mosquitos or other insect bites cannot transmit HIV.
- One can already be infected with HIV and show no symptoms (asymptomatic) for years. Should one experience symptoms of early HIV infection — flu-like symptoms, headache, mouth ulcers, night sweats, weight loss, and swollen glands – it is imperative to get tested ASAP.
- Depending on the type of test done, an HIV test can yield results from 20 minutes to two weeks.
- AIDS is actually the third stage of HIV infection.
- Sadly, despite advancements in HIV treatment, there is still no cure but effective antiretroviral regimens (ARVs) can significantly slow the disease’s progress as well as prevent secondary infections and complications.
- There are 7 million known cases of people living with HIV at the end of 2016 and 20.9 million are on HIV treatment by mid-2017.
- In the Philippines, according to the Department of Health (DOH), there are 44,010 reported cases of HIV as of May 2017. Of these, 95% of those infected are male.
Above all, empathy and compassion must be extended to those inflicted with the disease to decrease, if not fully quell the level of stigma on those with the incurable health issue.
As what WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, “health services should be adapted to reach and meet the needs of those populations most at risk and affected, and this includes implementing a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to stigma and discrimination in all health services, and fully engaging communities as equal and essential partners in the response.”
“The principle of ‘everybody counts’ must be enshrined in policies, laws and practices that span across all relevant sectors, adopting a whole-of-government approach. The message is simple – make everybody count!”