Guest Author - Dawn Denton
UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) expressed the belief in 2006 that the incidence rate (new infections) of HIV peaked in the late 1990s and has since stabilised in many countries in the world. This phenomenon can be attributed to the increase in prevention programs which include education about the use of condoms, drug addicts using clean needles when injecting drugs, an experimental gel treatments and vaccines which are in the early stages of development. Small changes in behavior have also had an impact on the incident rate: not sleeping with multiple partners, being tested after unprotected sex, insisting on the use of condoms and being tested for the HI Virus during pregnancy.
The proportion of people of people living with HIV has also levelled off. However the numbers of people living with HIV have continued to rise. Population growth and the life-prolonging effects of antiretroviral therapy have had an important impact. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst affected region in the world, but declines in the national HIV prevalence in some sub-Saharan African countries are not strong enough or widespread enough to diminish the epidemic’s overall impact on this region.
Women bear a disproportionate part of the AIDS burden. Not only are they more likely than men to be infected with HIV, but in most countries they are most likely to be the ones caring for people living with HIV and AIDS.
In Africa the very high incidence of rape is fuelling the transmission of the virus, especially in war zones where rape is being used as a weapon of power and intimidation.
In many communities across the continent men migrate to the cities in search of work and leave their wives and children behind in rural areas. This leads to the increased use of prostitutes and involvement with other females while they are in the cities. This all helps to spread the virus. Until this economic migration and the pattern of promiscuous behavior is changed, the battle with HIV/AIDS will continue.
Drug addicts are using prescribed antiretroviral drugs to add to their drug cocktails for a heightened effect. They often have to steal antiretroviral drugs from HIV patients in their families or communities. The resultant effect leads to the inadequate administration of the medication and possible drug resistance. Until the law enforcement agencies get to grips with this crime the situation can only deteriorate. Very poor HIV patients are known to sell their antiretroviral drugs for financial gain.
The highest new cases of HIV are found in the 15 – 25 year age group. This could be attributed to poverty and to the fact that many young girls choose older men as sexual partners. More established men are able to supply all the financial needs of these young girls. The girls also have no say in these uneven relationships to insist on the use of condoms as a prevention method.
Across Africa the fight against the virus has come a long way since the 1980s when it was officially acknowledged. Doctors, nurses and social workers are better trained and they are gaining valuable experience. Mother to child transmission has also dropped drastically. Many maternity departments in government and private hospitals insist that all expectant mothers be tested for HIV. If the mother is HIV positive she is given antiretroviral drugs if the drugs and funding are available. The new baby of the positive mother starts on the drugs within six hours of birth. The baby will continue the treatment for six weeks and a follow up test will be done 12-18 months later. The new mother is kept on the drugs while she is breastfeeding. In some rural areas babies are born at home assisted by a traditional 'midwife' so statistics are not accurate but merely an estimation.
Research to find some answers and to facilitate prevention is continuous. Financial support from all over the world is assisting in this urgent research project. Ongoing education is vital to reduce the impact this virus has on millions of people. HIV is still with us. We have not found a cure so the virus lives on.