AIDS: No Longer A Death Sentence

by Radwa El Samahy

From a threat, an epidemic, a misconception, and a stigma, to a journey towards awareness and acceptance.  

Scientists believe that HIV originally came from a virus particular to chimpanzees in West Africa during the 1930s, and transmitted to humans through the transfer of blood through hunting. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when rare types of pneumonia, cancer and other diseases were reported that the world became aware of HIV and AIDS. 

Source: CANFAR

“In Egypt, One in five people living with HIV report being forced to leave their homes by their landlords, family or neighbors.”

Before the discovery of the variety of reasons because of which one can get infected, societies had created a stigma around the disease, thinking it only resulted from unhygienic sexual intercouses, causing the patients to feel shame and the need to hide from the public. It wasn’t until decades after the reporting of the first case, that people came to realize that HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through unsafe sexual encounters, having multiple sexual partners, using illicit drugs through shared needles/syringes, or it can even be passed from a mother to her child through breastfeeding. 

“I lost my first child due to the fact that I didn’t know I had HIV. After getting pregnant for the second time, I followed up with a doctor, received an antiretroviral medicine while pregnant, and my daughter was thankfully born HIV-negative. I still have to keep testing her until she is older to make sure she is fine” - Anonymous 

Did you know that one of the biggest myths surrounding AIDS and HIV is that it can be transmitted through saliva, sweat, clothes or toilet seats? 

The lack of information and awareness combined with outdated beliefs lead people to fear getting HIV/AIDS. Additionally, many people think of it as a disease that only affects certain groups. This leads to negative value judgments about people who are living with HIV. Which, in turn, leads to its transformation from a stigma to a cause for discrimination, characterized in the refusal to provide healthcare or services to a person living with HIV/AIDS, refusal of casual contact with them, and socially isolating them from the community. 

“According to the UNAIDS, 29 000 adults are living with HIV in Egypt”

Back when the AIDS epidemic was at its height, and while many turned away, Princess Diana opened the UK's first specialist HIV/AIDS unit at London's Middlesex Hospital. While visiting the unit, she famously noted that HIV does not make people dangerous, and that you can shake their hands and hug them, you can even share their homes and workplaces. She was one of many who contributed to the stigma breaking.

“HIV/AIDS kills immune system cells that help the body fight infections and diseases.”

Someone who is suffering from such a disease goes through a lot of physical and emotional pain on a daily basis. When a person discovers they have HIV, they tend to experience a range of feelings, from fear and anger to denial. Unfortunately, society stigmatizes and fears the disease because of the nature of its transmission, while the actual scary part is what one endures after learning about the physical consequences of it. 

And now, after busting the myth, the only question left is.. Should one still be afraid of an AIDS patient, or is it finally time to use the knowledge and education we’ve gained through the years to help him/her with support, acceptance and comfort? 

On the other hand, premarital honest conversations, and  periodic testing can be a great prevention method to protect yourself and your close ones against AIDS, HIV and STDs. 

According to UNICEF, If you doubt you’re at risk of HIV infection, this is a contact list for free counseling and testingThe test is also available in private labs for a fee.

No illness or disease should ever be a cause for shame or disgrace, getting the needed help and staying healthy matters more than people’s words. AIDS has the power to physically bring someone down by attacking their immune system, but we have the power to build them up by becoming their support system! 

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