A previously unknown immunodeficiency disease was discovered by scientists about twenty-five years ago, which came to be known broadly as 'AIDS'. Ever since, 'Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome' or AIDS, has spread dangerously, taking the world by storm; according to the latest figures enabled by the UNAIDS/WHO 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update, nearly 39.5 million people across the world are grappling with the disease.
AIDS is the clinical manifestation of disease symptoms occurring due to HIV infection. The Human Immunodeficiency virus, a veritable portender of doom, has left a trail of destruction, thwarting the lives of millions. Amid such a dismal scenario, it is no exaggeration that we are caught in a 'do or die' situation, with no option but to halt the epidemic. 1st December 2006, World AIDS Day, is a global call for action, to put our heads together in an all out effort to fight HIV/AIDS. The 'red ribbon', which has been the celebrated symbol for the cause of AIDS, has proved that actions do speak louder than words. Sport a Red Ribbon today, and take the cause of AIDS forward on a war footing - 'Stop AIDS. Keep the promise.'
Chinks in the armour
An alarming 12000 people are infected with HIV each day. New data has shown that HIV prevention programmes have not been persistent, which is a major setback to the success of such measures. Further, the prevention strategies have failed to reach the vulnerable lot, defeating the very purpose of its initiation. In 2005 for instance, less than 50% of the young were well-informed about HIV; only 9% of homosexual men and less than 20% of injecting drug users had access to HIV prevention methods. Dangerously, a miniscule 9% of infected pregnant women were provided antiretroviral drugs. And what can be worse, the estimated 15 million children who were prone to the epidemic were not provided adequate care and support.
For a HIV prevention strategy to realize its ultimate goal, it needs to be focused, targeting the high risk groups. Additionally, the prevention measures should infuse positive trends in sexual behavior, especially among the younger lot. The importance of using 'protection' during sexual encounters and also reduction in the number of sexual partners should form the core of AIDS prevention measures.
Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have seen remarkable improvements in the HIV rates, owing to such measures. China has also recorded success with special programmes targeting sex workers that resulted in the widespread use of condoms. This also brought about a decline in the rates of sexually transmitted infections. Portugal's example of special prevention programmes, is worthy of emulation, as it resulted in the HIV rates crashing by one-third among the drug injectors.
There has been an alarming increase of HIV infection among homosexual men in Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and many areas in Latin America. This is mainly because majority of the national AIDS programmes did not accommodate the particular needs of these people. The AIDS Epidemic Update has stressed the inadequacy of HIV surveillance in many regions including Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and North Africa, where the level of knowledge is significantly low, the reason for rise in infection rates.
It is also well known that AIDS victims have to battle the stigma and discrimination which is as difficult to combat as the disease. Nearly 50% of the countries advocate policies that are detrimental to the success of HIV-prevention and treatment programmes. To be effective, the global AIDS response should be more powerful, planned and focused, drawing upon the strengths of each of the players, to achieve the envisioned 2010 target.
It imperative to adopt a holistic approach, in the development of powerful technologies to prevent HIV/AIDS, which includes the development of vaccines and microbicides to halt the epidemic.
The challenge in front of us can be tackled well, if there is unflinching financial support for research and development of the AIDS vaccine and microbicides. There is an evident chasm in the funding for vaccines and microbicides, estimated at a whopping figure of $500m annually. This deficit can be compensated if all the global players combine their collective forces, to bridge the gap.
Importantly, the perceptible impediments to AIDS prevention, in the form of reluctance to participation in clinical trials, can be suitably addressed if there are enough centers to enable counseling, testing and treatment measures, to dispel any underlying fears of treatment. It is also imperative to mobilize political support from both developing and developed countries, and the scientific community, in expediting the development of AIDS vaccines and microbicides, which will help allay the suffering to millions of lives.
India Adopts the 'Straight-Jacket' Approach
In India, more than 50 percent of the AIDS cases belong to rural India, of which 40% of the victims happen to be women. The AIDS campaign in India has fine tuned its strategy from the previous ABC campaign - 'Abstinence, Behavior changes and Condom' to the present, CCC, which is simply 'Condom, condom and condom'. Nearly 11,000 condom vending machines have been installed nation-wide, making the condom a household item.
The government is also gearing up to enable free treatment to 1,00,000 HIV/AIDS positive people and to realize this, 101 anti-retroviral treatment centers have been instituted. Efforts have been made to solicit the support from corporate services to partner prevention programmes and to improve R&D in evolving better treatment measures for HIV/AIDS. A law to check stigma and discrimination at workplaces is also on the anvil.
Aiding a HIV-free Tomorrow
In finality, there is nothing to beat the strength of collective will and strategies to outwit the virus, which has laid siege for more than two decades. It is important to recall the main tenets of the AIDS campaign at every juncture, the fundamental 'ABC' which is the foundation for a tomorrow, free of AIDS.
Robert Frost, a poet of renown, wrote, 'The woods are lovely dark and deep, But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.' These sentiments are embodied in the campaign which relentlessly strives to eradicate HIV from the face of the earth.
REDALERT the world with the Red Ribbon and Fight HIV /AIDS!