2022 World AIDS Day, Any Hope For People Living With Virus?

By Hadiza Mohammed-Aliyu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

As the world gets set to mark 2022 World AIDS Day (WAD) with the theme “Equalise’’, there is the
need to critically analyse the state of people living with the virus, stigma problem and how accessible
and affordable are the drugs they need to keep them healthy.

There is also the need to analyse commitments toward stopping the spread of the virus and securing
the rights of people living positively.

Since 1988, World AIDS Day is annually being celebrated on Dec. 1 in UN member states as an international
day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning
those who have died of the disease.

AIDS is a chronic immune system disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which
damages the immune system and interferes with the body’s ability to fight diseases.

HIV can be spread through contact with infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.

There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but medications can control the infection and prevent disease
progression and people taking HIV medications may not have other symptoms for years.

Some people with HIV develop flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after getting the virus and as the virus multiplies
and destroys immune cells, symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes may occur.

When left untreated, HIV typically turns into AIDS in about eight to 10 years

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says division, disparity and disregard for human rights are among
the failures that allowed HIV to become and remain a global health crisis.

It says global HIV response is in danger, even as HIV remains a major public health issue that affects
millions of people worldwide, adding that toward HIV goals has stalled in the last few years,
while resources have shrunk, and millions of lives are at risk.

It says globally, 70 per cent of new HIV infections are among people who are marginalised and often
criminalised, while only 52 per cent of children living with HIV are on life-saving treatment.

WHO, therefore, urged global leaders and citizens to boldly recognise and address the inequalities
which are holding back in ending the scourge, scale up HIV services, remove barriers and discrimination of key populations.

It also recommended quality Antiretrovirals (ARVs) to end new infections among children and greater political
commitment to end AIDS in all populations by 2030.

The world body is also calling for equality in access to essential HIV services, particularly for children, sex workers and people in prisons.

It recalled that economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities and challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic and other global
crisis require renewed efforts to maintain visibility for HIV and to end AIDS as a public health threat.

It stated that the reason for the focus on inequalities is because discrimination still persists for most basic services like testing,
treatment and care, and recommended that health services be adapted to reach and meet the needs of populations most at
risk and affected, while implementing “zero tolerance’’ policy to stigma and discrimination.

WHO recommends renewed focus on populations that have been left behind in the global response to HIV and AIDS.

On its part, UNAIDS report on the occasion of the 2022 WAD described the theme of the event — “Equalise’’ as “a call to action’’,
adding that “it is a prompt for all of us to work for proven practical actions needed to address inequalities and help end AIDS.

“Young women in Africa remain disproportionately affected by HIV, while coverage of dedicated programmes for them remain
too low.

“In 19 high-burden countries in Africa, dedicated combination prevention programmes for adolescent girls and young
women are operating in only 40 per cent of high HIV incidence locations.’’

The report quoted the UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima as saying “to keep everyone safe, to protect everyone’s
health, we need to Equalise.’’

An NGO, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), has also urged world leaders and stakeholders to redouble efforts toward HIV
prevention, testing and treatment to slow the infection rate.

The group, the largest global AIDS organisation providing medical care and services to more than 1.6 million people in 45
countries worldwide, including Nigeria, made the call in a statement issued by Mr Steve Aborisade, the Advocacy and Marketing
Manager of AHF Nigeria, ahead of the 2022 WAD.

The group reminded world leaders, global public health institutions and civil society organisations that much work needs to
be done to end the AIDS epidemic.

Aborisade quoted the Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy of AHF, Terri Ford, as saying that the world has come too far in
the fight against HIV and AIDS to let the decades of slip away.

Ford, however, urged world leaders to relight the fire in the HIV and AIDS fight by putting increased focus on test and
treatment, as well as also addressing late HIV presentation.

He added that “we were glad to see the resilience of HIV programmmes worldwide during and after the pandemic.

“However, latest UNAIDS data shows that global HIV/AIDS response needs reinvigorating, making the theme even
more relevant for this year’s World AIDS Day.

“UNAIDS reported 1.5 million new HIV infections in 2021, which were 1 million more than the global target of
500,000 and an estimated 650,000 deaths from AIDS-related illnesses.’’

The AHF Africa Bureau Chief, Dr Penninah Lutung, said that the most recent UNAIDS statistics shows that more than
40 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the HIV epidemic.

He said “HIV response in parts of Africa has held strong through the adversity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Also, new HIV infections are rising and young women and girls remain disproportionately affected, particularly in sub-Saharan
Africa,” Lutung said.

Meanwhile, a 56-year-old man living with the virus (name withheld), said he tested positive to HIV in 2018 and registered
with the teaching hospital in his state and had been receiving ARV drugs through a coalition of people living positively.

He said that he had been adhering to the rules, avoiding risky behaviours and taking his medications regularly and so far,
he had not witnessed any complication.

Another woman also living with the virus (name withheld), said she tested positive since 2012 and initially refused to go
to the hospital and instead, resorted to taking herbal medicines and she almost lost her life.

She added that her friend also tested positive in 2013 but went and registered at the HIV clinic in the general hospital
and started taking medication, which encouraged her to also register.

She explained that after taking her medications “religiously’’ for three months, she became stabilised and had
been on the drugs since 2013.

She called on government and well-spirited organisations to assist people living with the virus with jobs that they can do
to sustain themselves, saying that many are being discriminated against and would not want to be engaged.(NANFeatures)

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