World AIDS Day is observed on December 1. It is a day dedicated to commemorate those who have passed on and to raise awareness about AIDS and the global spread of the HIV virus. An HIV infected person can live a healthy social life but he has the social obligation of not spreading the disease. I would like to point out that AIDS affects women not only as individuals who are HIV inflected but also in their multiple roles in society and the family, as health care providers, educators, wives, mothers and income providers. It is also clear that the impact of HIV-related diseases among women will, if no action is taken, inevitably worsen the situation everywhere, particularly in the poorer communities.
In August the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare put the number of people getting free treatment nationally at 9,65,000, of which 53,400 are children. This must be viewed against the most recent estimate last year, that 2.1 million people live with HIV in India, of whom 7,90,000 are women. According to the government regulations on the prevention of infectious disease, a doctor who has discovered that his patient is carrying HIV is required to try to obtain information on who infected him and what other persons the patient might have infected. It is reported that there are approximately 21 lakh persons estimated to be living with HIV in India and the percentage of patients receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment currently stands at a mere 25.82% as against the global percentage of 41%, according to the 2015 Global Burden of Diseases.
No doubt, the WHO has issued guidelines on medical procedures to be followed in handling HIV infected people but as women will have to take upon themselves a large proportion of caring for HIV-infected persons and people with AIDS, it is imperative that they are provided with information, skills, knowledge and resources in order for their roles as providers of care to be less taxing, more humane and more effective. Don’t we think we should learn from the experience of Thailand, Senegal and Uganda that have brought down the HIV rate. No doubt, the government has taken initiative but the onus lies on civil society to help get rid of the discrimination and prejudice that HIV-affected people face.
We should remind ourselves of the damage the disease has done and rededicate ourselves to its prevention. There is a need to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS among youngsters, particularly girls. The main reason is that there is very little awareness in rural India about what exactly the disease is, its modes of transmission and its symptoms etc. Our aim must be to limit the spread of the disease and educate youth about its prevention.
Time has now come when victims need to be provided with information about the emotional and physical process of HIV diseases or AIDS, the ways in which HIV is transmitted. Educational materials must also be printed to accommodate differences in language, culture and education. The family members should show willingness to care for a person infected with AIDS. The Government should take care of counselling, health education, treatment of infected persons, organising reporting of cases and establishment of surveillance centres. The active support of the citizens, voluntary organizations and society is very essential.
Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)