Take Charge, Now!

World AIDS Day [December 1] provides us the opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS

Aids signApproximately 40 million people live with HIV in the world, today. This number is only increasing in every region, every day. Worse, ignorance and bias are also fuelling the spread of a preventable disease. Here's a snapshot at what the spectre of HIV/AIDS is all about, and what we'd all do to stall the monstrous disease in its deadly tracks - to the best extent possible.

HIV Testing Before Marriage

How important is it to have tests for HIV and/or other STDs before marriage? What is the meaning of window period?

People are fast becoming aware of HIV testing before marriage; however, a vast majority still does not know about the "window period." If a person is infected with HIV, the blood test [Elisa for HIV antibodies] is positive only after three months. The period of initial three months, when the test is negative is known as the "window period." This is a dangerous period, as it gives the false impression that a person is HIV negative. The "infected" person can transmit the infection to others through unprotected sex. Experts strongly recommend two HIV tests with a gap of three months before marriage.

Besides HIV, it is also necessary to test for another fatal disease that is transmitted sexually - hepatitis-B. A carrier of hepatitis-B appears healthy outwardly, but can transmit the deadly disease to the partner through sexual contact. Syphilis, though fully treatable, is a dangerous sexually transmitted disease [STD] when it is not detected. It is particularly notorious as it plays hide-n-seek with the patient giving him/her false signals of self-recovery, while progressing in the body. A VDRL test or TPHA test for syphilis is, therefore, a must in all medical check-ups before marriage.

HIV Positive Person in Family

I got married seven months ago. I am expecting a baby. Recently, I came to know that my husband's younger brother, who stays with us has tested HIV positive. He appears outwardly normal. I have started getting worried as he shares the bathroom, the utensils and even the furniture with all of us. I fear that something may go wrong with my pregnancy. Kindly advice.

HIV cannot be contracted through casual social contact - through utensils, clothes, or by using a common bathroom or furniture. It can be transmitted only through genital contact [penetrative intercourse, oral sex, anal sex etc.,] or by blood-to-blood contact. In your case, you don't have to worry at all about the HIV positive status of your brother-in-law. Your baby is safe. In fact, remaining worried and tense could be more harmful to your pregnancy.

HIV/AIDS victims need to be treated with extra care and compassion. They yearn to be accepted and loved. It is only human to be empathetic to those who are suffering from AIDS. Your understanding of your brother-in-law's mental agony will go a long way in the circumstances. It will also help you mature as a person.

Condom & HIV Transmission

I am a married man of 29. I have had sexual encounters with commercial sex workers last month. I was very cautious about using a condom every time. In spite of using a condom, my family physician is insisting on getting my HIV test done. Are there any chances of me getting infected with HIV? Can I have sex with my wife safely?

A person infected or likely to be infected with HIV [or, any other STD] should be aware that a condom cannot completely eliminate the risk of transmission of HIV/STDs to themselves, or to others.

A condom covers only your penis. The scrotum, groin and the area around the penis remain uncovered and, thus, unprotected. Any abrasion, invisible scratch, or skin infection in these areas can transmit HIV - if either of the partners is infected. Deep kissing, accidental contact with other body areas where skin could be open [visible or otherwise] can also transmit HIV.

Medically, a sexual relationship with multiple partners [with, or without condom] poses a high risk of transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

80 per cent of commercial sex workers in India are already HIV positive. All forms of sexual acts with a commercial sex worker amount to high-risk behavior with very strong chances of contracting HIV/AIDS and other STDs.

If you have had this type of exposure, get yourself tested. Get your blood test [Elisa] for HIV antibodies done twice with an interval of three months. Avoid any sexual contact with your wife during this time. Only if both the tests are negative is relating sexually with your wife safe.

AIDS: The Modern Scourge

Few diseases have been feared as much as HIV/AIDS since mankind began efforts to control and prevent major diseases. History is witness to several successful attempts in controlling, eradicating and preventing major causes of disability, or death. Control of diseases such as measles, polio, tetanus etc., through vaccines and eradication of smallpox are examples of man's triumph over many killer-diseases. Although a large number of health problems continue to defy human efforts to control them, none of them presents a challenge greater than the control and prevention of HIV/AIDS. This is mainly because there is neither a scientifically proven cure nor vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS, at the moment.

AIDS in India

India has the world's second largest HIV infected population after South Africa. About 10 million people are estimated to be HIV positive presently, though the official figure is 4.58 million for 2002, 5.1 millions for 2003, and 5.134 million for 2004.

According to National AIDS Control Organisation [NACO], there has been a 15 per cent rise in HIV infected population from 2002 to 2003, in India. NACO estimated that the number of Indians living with HIV increased by 500,000 in 2003. Around 38 per cent of these people were women.

The number of HIV infections in India is difficult to determine. India's prevalence estimates are based solely on sentinel surveillance conducted at public sites. The country has no national information system to collect HIV testing information from the private sector, which provides 80 per of healthcare in the country.

Although the HIV prevalence rate is low [0.9 per cent], the overall number of people with HIV infection is very high according to estimates by UNAIDS. Given India's large population, with most of the Indian states having a population greater than a majority of the countries in Africa, a mere 0.1 per cent increase in the prevalence rate would increase the number of adults living with HIV/AIDS by over half-a-million people Maharashtra accounts for close to 50 per cent [which is the largest] of all reported HIV and AIDS cases in India, followed by Tamil Nadu and Manipur.

AIDS Fact-file

An estimated 40 million people worldwide were reported to be living with HIV infection in 2005.

According to statistics, 4.9 million [10 per minute] people were newly infected with HIV and 3.1 million [six per minute] died of AIDS in 2005.

Presently, every six seconds one person [10 per minute, 14,400 per day, 50 lakh per year] is getting newly infected with HIV in the world, and every 10 seconds, one person [six per minute, 8,500 per day, 31 lakh per year] is dying of AIDS in the world.

More than 95 per cent of people with HIV infection live in the developing world.

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