In this article, we will be discussing AIDS as a disease and then discuss how it is a taboo in our society.
Years ago, back in school, I learned a little about HIV from a classmate who was brave enough to bring up the topic. Soon, he was surrounded by a large group interested in knowing about this weird disease that we weren’t taught about. (Back then we didn’t learn it as a part of our syllabus). As we were listening, our teacher arrived and we dispersed to our respective places.
Although everyone else seemed to have forgotten about it, I was still intrigued. I wanted to know more about it. I then came across a movie that was brave enough to portray AIDS at a time when it was still considered taboo. I learned from that cinema and of course, our digital encyclopedia, google.
Today, we all claim to be woke. So shouldn’t we all be respectful towards those suffering from AIDS?
There is still a large section of society that discards those suffering from AIDS and labels them untouchable or polluted. Then there is another part, that knows about AIDS but under peer pressure discards sufferers.
In the modern world, AIDS education is present in most schools but none of these alter the attitude of the people towards those suffering from the disease.
Before diving into heated discussions on taboos, let us establish what AIDS is. After all, knowledge is the only torchlight that leads you to the end of a realization tunnel.
What is AIDS?
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus(HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight infection and disease. HIV and AIDS are words often used together.
HIV is a virus and AIDS is the most advanced phase of HIV infection.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can also spread by contact with infected blood and from illicit injection drug use or sharing needles. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Without medication, it may take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.
Where did it come from?
HIV first came from chimpanzees. The chimpanzee version of the disease is called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV. It is believed that it later spread to humans when they hunted chimpanzees for meat. Studies show that HIV may have spread to humans back in the 1800s.
Now, let’s talk about symptoms.
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary depending on the phase of the infection:
Some people infected by HIV may experience flu-like symptoms within 2- 4 weeks after the virus enters the body. This may last for days or weeks. People with HIV, though highly infectious in the initial days of their infection, don’t discover it until it progresses to later stages.
In the initial few weeks, a person might experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and headache. As the infection weakens their immune system, they develop other symptoms such as sore throat, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and weight loss.
Is there a cure for HIV?
Currently, there is no cure for HIV but there are medicines and treatments that help ease the pain of sufferers and prolong their life.
When I tried to ask some people what they know about AIDS, they immediately discarded the idea and asked me to not talk about it. If we don’t talk about this, we will give way to misunderstandings and rumors. Some myths that have come up because of this ignorance are:
Myth: HIV can spread by breathing the same air as the infectious person
Fact: HIV only spreads through sexual transmission, contact with infected blood, or from a mother to child during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Myth: mosquitoes spread HIV
Fact: after a lot of research, it has been concluded that mosquitoes do not spread HIV.
Myth: Once a person gets HIV, their life is over
Fact: it is true that HIV is a dangerous virus and has caused quite a few deaths all over the world. But what is also true is that science has progressed and there are now medications that help the patient get better.
So far, we have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS. It is time to discuss the stigma that comes attached to this disease.
Have you ever come across a person who openly announces that he is suffering from HIV? I haven’t. But have you seen a person with cancer post a story on Instagram about their fight against the disease? Many have.
An HIV-positive person does not have the freedom to talk about their battle openly. We applaud those who are terminally ill for their fight but HIV is one such disease that is seen as a sin.
Some patients hide their diagnoses from their parents as well, because they would immediately disown them. This causes a problem because once people learn of their diagnosis it takes time for it to sink in.
For any fatal disease, the time taken to accept is a lot but with this particular disease, because of the stigma, people hide their diagnosis and delay treatment.
Do you remember the reproduction chapter in your 10th grade? My teacher didn’t start teaching it until she could no more avoid it. It was clear that she was uncomfortable teaching it. But not to blame her completely, we too would giggle under the table. If talking about sex is so difficult, you can only imagine how difficult a conversation about sexually transmitted diseases can be.
Since childhood, you might have observed that certain topics are avoided by the elders around us. One such topic is AIDS. But it makes sense that we see AIDS
as a sin. In a country where pre-marital sex is a sin, you can only imagine the thoughts about HIV and AIDS.
Because our elders are afraid to bring this topic, because our teachers are scared to discuss sex, we live in a society that has been plagued with misunderstandings and rumors.
While cancer treatment comes with reports and tests, HIV treatment comes with judgment and character certificates. Once you are labeled HIV positive, there is no going back. From here on, you fight a battle that only ends when you die.
There is only one way to let go of this prejudice. That is, to talk about it. Discuss it among your friends. Try to make your parents understand what this disease is and why it shouldn’t be someone’s character certificate.
I would highly recommend watching this movie – “my brother Nikhil..” which beautifully showcases the sin that HIV is believed to be. It covers the prejudice attached to this disease beautifully. And it is sure to change your perspective at the end.
It is also important to introspect. Today, when I’m writing this article, I too might have certain prejudices that I don’t consciously know of but they have been ingrained in my mind by society.
If all of us focused on getting more aware of this disease, we might break an age-long tradition.
If change doesn’t take place now, then when?
image credits: office of women's health.
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