HIV stigma con­tin­ues to ham­per treat­ment

Pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures are more ac­ces­si­ble

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - HEALTH - TSHEGO LEPULE

THE avail­abil­ity of new pre­ven­tion drugs, in­creas­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity of treat­ment and home test­ing kits for HIV have done lit­tle to curb the stigma at­tached to those living with virus as the world pre­pares to mark World Aids Day on Fri­day under the theme “The Right to Health”.

In South Africa the fo­cus has shifted to get­ting those in­fected to get treat­ment as well get­ting those at risk to use pre­ven­ta­tive drugs.

Ear­lier this week the Joint United Na­tions Pro­gramme on HIV/AIDS (UNAids) re­leased a re­port in Khayelit­sha that showed the num­ber of in­fected peo­ple re­ceiv­ing an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs had in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly. To date, 20.9 mil­lion of the world’s 31 mil­lion peo­ple who are living with HIV have ac­cess to the life­sav­ing drugs.

“Many peo­ple do not re­mem­ber that in 2000 there were only 90 peo­ple in South Africa on treat­ment,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAids.

“To­day, South Africa has the biggest life-sav­ing treat­ment pro­gramme in the world, with more than four mil­lion peo­ple on treat­ment. This is the kind of ac­cel­er­a­tion we need to en­cour­age, sus­tain and repli­cate.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, there have been an es­ti­mated 610 000 new in­fec­tions recorded be­tween March 2016 and March 2017 among peo­ple aged 15 to 24 in south­ern Africa, with women ac­count­ing for 59% of those new in­fec­tions.

For a 40-year-old mother of three from Khayelit­sha, the shame of living with her con­di­tion lead to her son be­com­ing in­fected. “I found out I was pos­i­tive through my boyfriend who had been living and work­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg. He came home and said he had HIV and prob­a­bly gave it to me. I was so shocked and scared and im­me­di­ately saw it as a death sen­tence that I did not even tell him I was preg­nant,” she said.

“When I even­tu­ally went to the clinic, I did not tell the nurses that I was pos­i­tive. When you go to the clinic to fetch your ARVs, that group is kept to­gether and made to sit in one section so ev­ery­one there knows what you are there to do. I was ashamed and scared of be­ing called names so I kept quiet.

“The minute you tell peo­ple your con­di­tion, they don’t want to touch some­thing you have touched or eat your food. It’s sad but I have come to ac­cept my con­di­tion and know that it does not mean I will die to­mor­row. I am HIV pos­i­tive but I am living pos­i­tively too.”

Deputy director of the Des­mond Tutu HIV Cen­tre at UCT Pro­fes­sor Linda-Gail Bekker said living with HIV had be­come more man­age­able but the stigma was still a chal­lenge.

“We are living in a new era. The HIV epi­demic has come of age in that the avail­abil­ity of treat­ment, the treat­ment it­self, the abil­ity to get tested, the abil­ity to pre­vent HIV has all come along in­cred­i­bly.

“We know if you take your treat­ment ev­ery day, and now th­ese new treat­ments have few side ef­fects, you can be­come vi­rally sup­pressed, which means vi­ral un­de­tectabil­ity and if your virus is un­de­tectable the chances of you trans­mit­ting it is in­cred­i­bly low, so you can take ac­count­abil­ity for not only your own health but your in­ti­mate part­ner’s well-be­ing.”

Bekker said aside from treat­ment, ad­vance­ments in cre­at­ing drugs that pre­vent con­tract­ing HIV, such as pre­ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis (PrEP), are also more ac­ces­si­ble.

“It is hope­ful that soon that we will be able to of­fer a young woman the op­tion of go­ing on an oral PrEP agent, a vagi­nal PrEP agent, as well as a long-act­ing agent, a bit like con­tra­cep­tion.”

SA has more than four mil­lion peo­ple on treat­ment

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