Blog entry by TEMITOPE FATOBA
I had a few misconceptions on HIV until I did my internship at an ART (Anti-retroviral Therapy) center for the management of people living with HIV.
A person infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), if not diagnosed and managed early can progress to the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV was first discovered in Nigeria in 1985. There are two strains which are HIV 1 and HIV 2.
Over the years, it has infected and killed millions of people around the world. It was considered a killer disease ; for individuals who tested HIV positive, it was as good as a death sentence. With scientific breakthroughs on how to manage the disease, people infected with HIV can live normal, healthy and productive lives through early diagnosis, adherence to drugs and lifestyle modification.
The virus is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, injuries arising from cuts of unsterilized needles, blades/clipper blades at salons, blood transfusion from infected blood or by any other form of contact with the body fluids of an infected person. Unprotected sexual intercourse accounts for majority of HIV cases.
An individual who tests positive for HIV is counselled by a trained HIV counselor and clinician. The patient undergoes other tests such as the CD4 viral load test, blood chemistries, full blood count, hepatitis, syphilis and tuberculosis (these tests are carried out periodically because they are susceptible to opportunistic infections).
The virus destroys the T-cells of the immune system in the body that helps to fight diseases. Early detection is very important in preventing progression to AIDS characterized by a breakdown in the immune system and opportunistic infections/diseases leading to complications and death.
Immediately the individual is diagnosed with the virus, he/she is placed on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) with the viral load monitored continually over a period (viral load is the concentration of the virus in the blood; the higher the viral load the more dangerous it is for the patient).
There is a window period of about three months whereby HIV antibodies are undetectable in the body fluids of a newly infected person. From counselling individuals (who have engaged in any risky behaviour such as unprotected sexual intercourse, use of unsterilized instruments etc.) are advised to repeat the test within three to six months after the first test which gave a negative result.
The treatment and management of people living with HIV has evolved over the years. A lot of research has gone into this and even though there is no known cure or vaccine yet, people living with HIV can live long, fruitful and fulfilling lives. They marry and procreate even when the couple is sero-discordant (one spouse is negative while the other is positive) or even when both spouses are positive because of advancement in science; as long the viral load of the positive person is monitored and if consistently very low it minimizes the risk of transmission during sexual intercourse. Through the prevention of mother to child transmission therapy (PMTCT), HIV positive women can give birth to HIV negative babies.
People living with HIV should not be discriminated against, stigmatization kills faster than the disease. We cannot get infected by holding their hands, hugging them, sharing cutlery, toilet etc.
Magic Johnson the former American basketballer has been living with this disease since 1991 and is still as healthy as ever.
HIV is a condition that is easily managed once diagnosed early. Do not discriminate or stigmatize persons living with HIV.