Safety first: Spreading awareness for World AIDS Day
Posted on: November 29, 2017
World AIDS Day, the first ever global health day, was held for the first time on December 1, 1988. Since then, World AIDS Day has served as an opportunity to spread global awareness for the fight against HIV,
starting with understanding the evolution of the disease: the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.1 HIV attacks and weakens a person’s immune system. As it weakens, he or she is at risk for life-threatening infections and cancers. At that stage, the illness is called AIDS.
Worlds AIDS Day was created to show support for people living with HIV and honor people who have died from the disease. Of course, advocating awareness for HIV/AIDS goes well beyond wearing a red ribbon one day a year. Here’s what you should know to spread awareness and protect yourself from this serious disease.
History by the numbers
While HIV/AIDS rose to global awareness in the 1980s and 1990s, it is still a dangerous and prevalent disease today. Since the start of the epidemic, an estimated 78 million people have become infected with HIV and 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.1In 2015, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children) – a global HIV prevalence of 0.8%. Around 40% of all people living with HIV do not know that they have the virus. In the same year, there were roughly 2.1 million new HIV infections, 150,000 of which were among children. Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected via their HIV-positive mothers. In 2015 alone, 1.1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
As you can see, HIV and AIDS remain major global health issues. Most commonly, HIV is spread through anal or vaginal sex without a condom, sharing needles or syringes, or other equipment used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV.2 Transmission occurs through certain body fluids from a person who has HIV, primarily via blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. HIV can also live in a used needle for up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors. Other means of HIV transmission include pregnancy, child birth or breastfeeding; oral sex; receiving blood transfusions, blood products or organ/tissue transplants; or, contact between broken skin/wounds.
Protection leads to prevention
Given the frequency of transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) via sex, it is – and remains – important to stay safe and carry condoms on you. Even if you aren’t planning to have sex, whether you’re single on a night out or you’re in a new relationship, make carrying protection a priority. Don’t count on your partner to be prepared, it’s always best to bring your own. Also, don’t be shy to bring the topic of condoms up – after all, you both benefit from being genuine and open. It’s a shared responsibility to be safe, and to carry protection. And remember: Condoms don’t last forever, nor can they be reused. They have an expiration date, which is printed on the box and individual condom wrapping. So, check the date regularly and make sure to get new condoms in time. Store them in a cool and dry place away from sharp objects.
Know your treatment options
If you do contract HIV, it’s extremely important you speak with your healthcare provider about treatment. HIV is a so-called retrovirus, and the medicine used to treat it are called antiretrovirals (ARV) and are delivered in combination with other ARVs in a therapy called antiretroviral therapy (ART).1These medicines slow the progression of the virus in your body. Although a cure for HIV does not yet exist, ART has played a significant role in the dropping numbers of AIDS-related deaths over the past 20 years. ART can keep you healthy for many years, and greatly reduces the risk of transmitting HIV if taken consistently and correctly. This method of treatment is recommended for all people living with HIV, so it’s critical that you consult your healthcare provider to learn more about ARVs and ART.
Planning for a healthy future
No matter whether you have just met someone for one night or are in a new relationship, be open with each other and honest. You cannot tell from the outside if a person is infected with HIV. This is not a matter of mere trust. If you are unsure of your own status, regular tests at your healthcare provider are a good way to go – not just because of HIV, but also other STIs. You owe this to your partner and yourself.
For further information on using condoms consult a trusted resource like your healthcare provider, who will be happy to support with any questions you might have. There’s nothing more empowering than taking responsibility for your own safety. And most of all: don’t ever let anyone pressure you into having sex without a condom. Always put your safety first – it’s not only smart, it could save your life.