Keeping AIDS in the Public Eye

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is primarily a sexually transmitted via other body fluids such as blood surgery; dentistry as well as blood transfusions can become a vehicle for transmission of the disease as well as the universal use of hypodermic needles as in the case of “needle-sharing” drug addicts, or multiple uses of syringes by doctors and other medical staff.  As these vehicles must all be suspect, there is a need for the careful screening of what was once called “life giving blood.” Although this is easy enough for anyone to comprehend nevertheless, the number of people who continue to ignore such edicts is astonishing and, in the case of health workers, criminal.

That there are still large areas where misconceptions reign is clear and, even the fact that AIDS is lethal, does not seem to arouse the concern it should but, with the main responsibility for keeping the HIV/AIDS at bay falling on men and women directly, particularly on the men who tend to travel more than women and therefore, face exposure more frequently than women. As extra care needs to be taken in those regions where V.D. is already rife, this is another factor to be emphasised for, those who have to live and habitat or to put it more bluntly, co-habitat in Bangladesh and countries like ours, must remember that HIV/AIDS is more virulent here.

With the number of positive cases growing, the treat of AIDS is one we can no longer ignore, nor can we continue to treat with it the “head in the sands” policy of the past for, when cases increases, they do so at a fast rate which, although may not yet be alarming, can inundate us if action is not taken now for there have already been recorded deaths among the population. When one considers that full blown AIDS takes about a decade to develop, this means the infection has already been among us for longer than that. As AIDS does not respect borders we must begin to understand how vulnerable we all our to its onslaught this, plus the added fact we do not have the resources with which to fight the menace, should at least make us more aware of the odds we face as we hope and pray for the development of the vaccine that may help save lives.

With Africa seemingly already doomed and Asia next on the list, it is only a matter for conjecture when this most populous region becomes the final battle ground and, if human life wishes to come out supreme the promiscuous which has been on the rise for some time, must be contained. Its onerous side-effect reflected in increased and increasing child prostitution is an added factor for accelerating the fight. This being so, we have little time to waste while we decide our policy and tactics which will bring the unseen enemy to its knees. Those most at risk, and they themselves who they are, must do the most to stop the spread of HIV but, for those at risk from blood and other unknown sources, well still need to depend on outside intervention by the government for, if blood is not properly screened, we may be faced with an epidemic we cannot handle.

In any government policy devised for combating the AIDS virus, the role of media intrusion looms large. This means that all the forms of media available to us must continue to keep its “eyes on the ball” for it cannot afford to relax its vigil even for a moment lest it fails in its task of getting the message across to society. Once it is out of the public eye for any length of time, AIDS will be forgotten and in its place there will grow a sense of complacency and even a sense of false security which is dangerous for us all. People should be encouraged to have their blood screened for HIV; therefore, a list of pathological laboratories properly equipped for the task must be published at once. To achieve this, all stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS has to be removed for this can only encourage secrecy of the kind that delayed the eradication of smallpox for, in its heyday, serious cases were kept concealed by people whenever health visitors came around. With more and more governments considering legislation to control HIV/AIDS there is even more reason to think the disease will go underground and, if this happens, containing its spread will become impossible. Yet governments, as they become frightened by the enormity of the task ahead may well resort to this and other extreme measures which will only boomerang in their faces therefore policies must be rational in approach.

AIDS however is one of those diseases that will, ultimately, make its presence knows to every man, woman and child on this planet earth for all are now potential victims and it is this realization we have to nurture but as this does not appear to arouse the concern it should, it well may be the lack of awareness among people which becomes the main enemy rather than the virus itself. As this is the last thing we need, it is now time for intensifying the public education programme against HIV/AIDS for AIDS as a social disease is difficult to expunge – and as a social disease it will, unless conquered, stay around to infects us all as we go about our daily lives and activities and in dealing with each other yet, while we are on our guard, we cannot also give up hope and, discoveries of natural substances within the human body capable of fighting off the disease gives us the hope we need to continue the fight for this means that HIV/AIDS is not as invincible as believed.

Despite such hope, however, the government’s strategy for controlling the epidemic/pandemic must be strong and more positive than it has

Been in the past for, not only must it be such as to reassure people that everything possible is being done, it must be convincing. The important thing to remember is that AIDS can no longer be thought of as a disease of homosexuals, drug addicts or those of doubtful morality, for this gives us a sense of false security and the knowledge that it is now in our own backyards and even in our households must be clearly portrayed. In other words, no-one is inviolable. If this is finally understood, it will help us deal with possible infection as a direct issue but governments need to be aware that politicizing AIDS is not the answer.

While prevention remains the best policy we must also remain alert to any new findings on AIDS and its treatment. Discoveries like a “wimpy” HIV by the Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research in Australia which could mean the development of natural inoculants that can protect HIV carriers against its more virulent strains, is a discovery not to be taken lightly for smallpox was only beaten when it was discovered that milkmaids with cowpox were immune to attacks and it was this discovery which led to an effective vaccine against the disease. As our knowledge of HIV and AIDS is still so incomplete, it may turn out not to be as impermeable as we once believed therefore, constant updating of our knowledge about the virus is tantamount to providing us with the new weapons we need with which to fight it and control its spread. But as at the moment HIV/AIDS appears to be one of those diseases about which the more we learn the less we know, it is somewhat of a conundrum still to be unraveled.

That medical personnel seem to know as much, or as little, about the disease as the rest of us gives us little comfort, especially when we hear of syringes used and re-used many times over. Diagnostic centres also need to be better equipped so as to be able to handle HIV/AIDS cases more effectively and, in addition, more intensive programmes on Sexually Transmitted Diseases and reproductive health should be made compulsory for all practicing doctors. This is very important for if we continue to ignore the problem or compound the ignorance to be found among some doctors, we have already lost the battle. The practice of using “professional donors” who give willingly of their blood for cash must be forbidden by law, and the practice of screening only a small percentage of donated blood must also be stopped forthwith.

As evidence accrues that heterosexual transmission of HIV is moving the infection out of the high-risk groups and into the general population, it is more than time the safeguards are in place for, once the infection, spills over into the general populace, there will be no containing it. Under these conditions, the best approach the government can take is to make use of each and every media source it can to reach the people but the unenviable task of monitoring the progress of the disease has to remain with the government. But keeping HIV/AIDS in the public eye is our and your task not to be ignored.

——  Written By Sylvia Mortoza

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