HIV Awareness and Prevention

Photo Credit: David Pierre, Jr.,  JSNMA Photo Editor

Itisha Jefferson
Bachelor of Science Candidate, Spelman College

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that only affects humans.  Unlike other viruses, it attacks your immune system over time. HIV attacks and destroys the T-Cells or CD-4 cells your body needs to fight infections and uses these cells to reproduce itself. Over time, when there are a minimal number of T-Cells or CD-4 cells in your body, HIV progresses to AIDS.

HIV is transmitted through body fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal mucous and breast milk. Feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears and any other body fluids or waste products cannot transmit HIV unless they are mixed with blood or direct and significant contact with them occurs. Currently, there are no vaccines available for the HIV virus, but this year, a Mount Sinai Hospital Researcher and Microbiologist, Dr. Kelly MacDonald made significant findings with HIV vaccine candidate (Delta 5), which is proposed to reduce and in some cases stop HIV progression by triggering natural immunity.

HIV is spreading at an alarming rate and has been deemed as an epidemic. There are a number of social factors that can help prevent the spread of HIV including:

•    Reducing levels of poverty in society that lead to increased risk of contraction
•    Providing HIV testing and counseling to identify infected people and reducing their risk to others
•    Providing educational programs for children and adults detailing how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases
•    Promoting sexual barrier precautions among high-risk commercial sex workers and clients
•    Creating health care programs providing antiretroviral therapy to extend life and reduce HIV transmission rates, and
•    Giving HIV-infected pregnant women antiretroviral therapy to reduce prenatal HIV transmission

There are several organizations that offer prevention programs. The United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA), an international development organization promoting the rights of women and children, advocates for and supports comprehensive and appropriate sexual health education as well as information and education services that explain how sexual transmission of HIV can be averted.   On a global level, there is an organization called Global Strategies for HIV Prevention whose mission is to implement international strategies to prevent HIV infection and to care for those affected by HIV through strategic alliances with those who share a passion for alleviating the suffering of women and children. Their programs include Save a Life, Hope Walks, and HIV/AIDS Education and Training.

Across the world the global epidemic of HIV has shown itself capable of triggering responses of compassion, solidarity and support, bringing out the best in people, their families and communities. However, the disease is also associated with stigma, repression and discrimination, which may cause affected individuals (or believed to be affected) to be rejected by their families, their loved ones and their communities.

Unfortunately, there are several demographic groups that have higher prevalence and incidence rates of HIV.  The National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) expressed grave concern about the stronghold HIV and STD infections continue to have on gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities in the United States. While other at-risk populations have seen declining numbers of new HIV infections over time, new cases among gay men continue to rise. Gay and bisexual men, particularly those of color, feel the acute and sustained effects of oppression. Despite the progress being made toward equality, rejection and discrimination still occur at personal and institutional levels.

In 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that women accounted for 26 percent of annual HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Black women represent a large percentage (65%) of the total number of women currently living with HIV/AIDS. High-risk heterosexual contact is the primary mode of HIV transmission for black women. Similar to the experiences of some homosexual men, there have also been social stigmas related to black women’s experiences with HIV/AIDS as well.

There are a number of people affected by HIV every single day.  Promoting prevention and awareness will assist in reducing the spread of HIV, ensuring the health of future generations, and increasing knowledge about the epidemic.

Filed Under: Global Health

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