The World Health Organisation has declared December 1st as the World AIDS Day. This year it is perhaps appropriate to spend some time bringing the disease to the forefront as worldwide there has been an alarming jump in new infection rates in the past few years. In Australia, there has been a 40% increase in infections since 2005. Last year, there were 995 new cases of HIV infection in Australia, which according to world standards may translate as a low rate, however, it represents an unacceptably high rate by Australian standards.
The reasons given for this increase in new infections is that there is a lack of publicity campaigns about the disease and its consequences, similar to the ones that were initially launched when AIDS first appeared. The younger generation are inadequately educated about the disease and the message of “safer sex” is not getting through to the Y generation. Better treatments for the disease (at least in developed countries) have meant that the disease is not seen as the death sentence that is was in the past. The optimism and the feeling of invulnerability of the young coupled with non-awareness of what life-long treatment with a cocktail of drugs can mean, have led to irresponsible sexual activity and a high infection rate with the virus.
Increased tolerance to “alternative” lifestyles and increased acceptance of homosexuality have also been blamed for the resurgence of cases of AIDS. However, it is often the young, heterosexual and drug users who seem to be most at risk of infection. Educational programmes, public awareness campaigns, advertisements on TV, radio, newspapers and internet are the way that we can hope to spread the message about HIV and what a terrible price to pay for a “free lifestyle” AIDS is.
What is counterproductive and extremely dangerous is what has occurred in Uganda’s parliament today. A bill for introducing the death penalty for homosexuals was put before it today. The Anti-homosexuality Bill will not only apply to Ugandans who live in the country, but also to Ugandans living abroad who commit such offences, even if homosexuality is legal in the country of their residence. The law proposes death by hanging for serial offenders or those who commit same-sex acts while being HIV-positive. The law further proposes that “touching another person with intent to have homosexual relations” is punishable by a life sentence in gaol. And even more outrageous is the fact that membership of gay organisations, funding them, advocacy of gay rights, provision of condoms or safer sex advice to gays will result in a seven-year gaol term for promoting homosexuality…
Africa continues to have the biggest problem in the world in terms of HIV infection and AIDS. In some countries more than 60% of the population is HIV positive. It is those same countries that have no means of effectively fighting the infection, drugs being expensive or simply unavailable, with the disease spread by poor hygiene (especially in a health care setting where disposable, one-use medical equipment is serially re-used). Lack of knowledge about HIV or downright wrong and fanciful preventative and curative strategies (like the infection being cured if a man has sex with virgins) also continues to increase the prevalence of the infection. In many parts of Africa, anal sex in heterosexual couples is a routine birth control measure. Unprotected anal sex still continues to be the highest risk sexual activity in spreading the virus. Even with Uganda’s draconian legislation against homosexuals, the problem of AIDS will remain in the country, especially if safer sex practices and education about the disease is actively discouraged by the obscurantist government.
Perhaps the greatest victims of the disease are babies borne by HIV-positive mothers. In this case, the congenital AIDS that develops in about a third will lead to a short and painful existence for the majority of them if they are born in a developing country. The sight of congenital AIDS in an infant is one of the most heart-rending and pathetic one can witness. The plight of these young children is enough for everyone of us to be active in AIDS awareness and participation in community education programs. Safer sex practices is a given of course, as is the provision of good health services that promote safe, reliable medical treatment and good hygiene practices. The WHO and Doctors Without Borders do some excellent work in providing health care in developing countries. Many volunteers and missionaries who work with these organisations also do their bit to fight against AIDS.
World AIDS Day is a timely reminder to us about the devastating effects of this disease on any person’s life. The virus causing AIDS, HIV, does not discriminate. Any person may be infected and the statistics are sobering. It does not matter if one is heterosexual or homosexual, male, female or transgender, young or old. What matters is being aware of the risks that one takes if engaging in unsafe sex practices (especially if one has many partners), the risks of sharing syringes when using drugs, unsafe medical practices, unsafe body piercing and tattooing practices, and of course, knowing the risks of having a baby if female and HIV-positive.
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