HIV/AIDS has re­mained a taboo sub­ject in the de­vel­op­ing world. Un­for­tu­nately, it is also the most wide­spread and threat­en­ing cause of death.

Southasia - - Contents - By Haseeb Ah­san The writer con­trib­utes to var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions on en­trepreneur­ship and skill de­vel­op­ment.

Though con­sid­ered taboo, HIV/AIDS re­mains one of the most threat­en­ing causes of death in South Asia to­day.

Hu­man psy­che gen­er­ally dic­tates that peo­ple re­sist change. This is nowhere more ev­i­dent than in con­ser­va­tive so­ci­eties, es­pe­cially in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Around the globe, HIV and AIDS have af­fected more than sixty mil­lion peo­ple, out of which 90% be­long to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. The main pro­po­nents of this are sex-work­ers, drug users and ig­no­rant de­ci­sion mak­ers. De­ci­sion-mak­ers ei­ther treat the is­sue lightly or can­not ac­cept that HIV/ AIDS ex­ist in their so­ci­ety. Some so­ci­eties dis­cour­age dis­cus­sion and aware­ness due to false cul­tural and re­li­gious lim­i­ta­tions es­pe­cially in Is­lamic coun­tries where it is be­lieved that the one who fol­lows the straight path of Is­lam can never suc­cumb to this virus.

In South Asia, more than 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple are Hiv-pos­i­tive. A large pop­u­la­tion (close to 2.5 mil­lion) re­sides in In­dia while the rest are scat­tered mainly in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pak­istan. It is crit­i­cal to erad­i­cate the so­cial chal­lenges of peo­ple who get in­volved in ac­tiv­i­ties that make them Hiv-pos­i­tive pa­tients. In such coun­tries, more than 35% of the pop­u­la­tion lives be­low the poverty line and the lit­er­acy rate re­mains dis­mal. With few op­tions, many suc­cumb to pros­ti­tu­tion and re­lated pro­fes­sions.

In Is­lamic coun­tries, peo­ple be­lieve that the teach­ings of Is­lam pro­vide a com­plete and ideal pack­age to live a clean and trans­par­ent life. Sta­tis­tics show that the preva­lence of HIV/AIDS is con­sid­er­ably very low in the re­gions where Is­lam dom­i­nates. This is due to manda­tory prac­tices and lim­i­ta­tions pro­vided within the frame­work of Is­lam that be­come a ref­er­ence point for ev­ery prac­tic­ing Mus­lim. Even then, Hiv-pos­i­tive pa­tients ex­ist in Is­lamic so­ci­eties. Here the chal­lenge is not just to com­bat HIV/AIDS but in­crease aware­ness and trig­ger change to en­able vic­tims to un­der­stand the is­sue and ad­dress the virus. Close to 1 mil­lion Mus­lims in the world are vic­tims of HIV/ AIDS and it is ar­gued that these sta­tis­tics are un­der-re­ported.

An­other key chal­lenge in these coun­tries is the lack of fun­da­men­tal women’s rights. Most male dom­i­nated so­ci­eties tend to dis­cour­age fe­male ed­u­ca­tion. Lack of ed­u­ca­tion trans­lates into lack of con­fi­dence and many women are forced into sex or are un­able to dis­cuss Hiv/aids-re­lated is­sues with their fam­i­lies. Such so­ci­eties deem the sub­ject taboo, thus se­verely hin­der­ing aware­ness. Sim­i­larly, sex work­ers can­not ne­go­ti­ate to take pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures dur­ing sex with their clients.

Other ma­jor chal­lenges in­clude in­ad­e­quate trans­fu­sion of blood and a high per­cent­age of pro­fes­sional blood donors. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey in Pak­istan, around 20 per­cent of blood donors are pro­fes­sion­als and most of them are drug ad­dicts who do­nate their blood to buy drugs in re­turn. Sim­i­larly, preused in­jec­tions and ir­re­spon­si­ble med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als pose a big chal­lenge in these coun­tries. Most dif­fi­cult to fathom is the fact that med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als in­volved in such prac­tices are aware of the risk in­volved and yet con­tinue to prac­tice it.

An­other con­cern is the so­ci­ety’s treat­ment of HIV/AIDS vic­tims who are in­creas­ingly abused or marginal­ized. Due to lack of aware­ness, many ren­der it un­wise and dan­ger­ous to in­ter­act with vic­tims and eat, drink and be­friend such peo­ple. Since we be­long to a con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety, we lack proper knowl­edge of the root cause of HIV/ AIDS. Our taboos em­anate from re­li­gious be­liefs and no re­li­gion has ever sup­ported the preva­lence of sex-work­ers. A few decades ago, such pro­fes­sions had no re­spect in the global so­ci­ety but to­day they have been le­gal­ized in nu­mer­ous de­vel­oped coun­tries.

HIV/AIDS is like a mon­ster and ig­nor­ing it does not elim­i­nate it from our so­ci­ety. A crit­i­cal need to cre­ate so­cial con­scious­ness on the is­sue seems to be the first pub­lic step. Sim­i­larly, lead­ers and de­ci­sion-mak­ers need to in­vest in aware­ness and pre­cau­tion­ary pro­grams about the dis­ease if they want to save the next gen­er­a­tion.

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