What You Need To Know This World AIDS Day!
In 2021, 3.84 crore people were suffering from HIV/AIDS globally. Of these, 24 lakh were Indians. How do we end this global pandemic?
Growing up, many of us encountered varying versions of advertisements that spread awareness about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Remember the “Chhoone se AIDS nahi hota… Chhoone se sirf pyar phailta hai…” and the “Balbir Pasha ko AIDS hoga kya?” ad campaigns?
While we learned a lot from these ads, there are still many hush-hush rumours and misconceptions floating around this disease. Also, we never stop to think about how financially devastating this can be for those who suffer from HIV/AIDS. Let’s understand HIV/AIDS better, along with how we can protect ourselves from this deadly disease.
What Is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a virus that, if left untreated, can lead to AIDS. This virus attacks the cells that enable the body to fight infections on its own. Once your immune cells are attacked, you’re more prone to all manner of diseases and infections.
AIDS is the later stage of HIV. It occurs when the body’s immune system is severely damaged because of HIV. This leads to a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses. At this stage, the disease is known as AIDS. Also, it is important to note that AIDS can’t be transferred; only HIV can.
How Is HIV Transmitted?
HIV or AIDS isn’t a contagious disease. You can only contract HIV if you get in direct contact with an HIV-positive person’s body fluids, such as their:
Semen and pre-seminal fluids
You may come into direct contact with such fluids due to numerous reasons. Having unprotected sex (vaginal or anal) with someone who is HIV-positive increases your chances of contracting this disease. We may feel that we have just one partner, and thus, we are at low risk of contracting this disease. However, did you know that 55% of married Indians have admitted to cheating on their spouses at least once?
You may even contract HIV because of the reuse of medical equipment, such as needles and syringes. On the other hand, an HIV patient with even the highest viral load cannot transmit HIV if one doesn’t come into contact with any of their body fluids.
Symptoms Of HIV/AIDS
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS are different, and they vary depending on the phase of the infection.
Primary infection: Many people who are infected by this disease develop flu-like symptoms that last for a few weeks. These symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, rashes, sore throat, diarrhoea, coughing, and weight loss, among others.
Clinical latent infection: This stage may last for years at a stretch (with proper treatment). While the body’s white blood cells are fighting the disease, many people are not likely to show any symptoms or signs during this period.
Symptomatic HIV: Once the virus has grown in number within the body, the infected person may start showing signs like the ones in the primary infection stage, only much stronger this time around.
AIDS: The last stage of HIV is AIDS. If you show symptoms of AIDS, it is probably too late for you. However, the good news is that most people don’t reach this stage (especially if they’ve been taking proper medications).
How To Protect Yourself From HIV?
There are several practical steps you can take to avoid contracting HIV.
Use protection if you or your partner has sex with more than one partner.
Limit your number of sexual partners.
Don’t reuse medical equipment. Ensure that the needles and syringes used with you are for one-time use or are medically disinfected.
Don’t do drugs, especially the ones you inject.
Get regularly tested for STDs.
Check with your physician if you need to get pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that keeps HIV in check.
These steps will help you stay away from HIV. However, if you think that you have contracted HIV, there’s no need to panic. Get tested. If you have HIV, you can still battle this virus as long as it hasn’t reached the final AIDS stage. You can still lead a relatively normal life.
What’s The Solution?
While it is true that HIV cannot be cured—once contracted, you have it for life—there are drugs that help HIV patients live a long healthy life. These drugs together are called Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). ART prevents the replication of the HIV virus within the body, bringing the viral load to a very low level. This allows the immune system to repair itself and protect us from further damage.
There are two types of possible treatments: pills and shots. Pills are recommended for people just starting HIV treatment. Shots are for those who have had an undetectable viral load for 3 months or more.
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, you can use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours to prevent contracting the disease.
Mothers with HIV can take ART and other medications to prevent the spread of the disease to their children. With proper medication, the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby from the mother may reduce to less than 1%.
With regular medication, you can get HIV under control in less than 6 months. One important thing to note is that HIV treatment doesn’t prevent the transmission of other STDs.
A Ray Of Hope
We did say that once contracted, you have HIV for life. However, in the past 4 decades, this hasn’t been true for 5 people. They were cured (possibly cured) of HIV. Stem-cell transplantation has been advancing at such a rate that it can possibly help get rid of the disease altogether.
While it is no secret that scientists have been working towards a possible cure for HIV/AIDS, there are many myths about STIs and sexual wellness. Confused about some urban legends and myths? Check out this myth-buster article.
What About Finance?
While nothing is more important than your well-being, you may still worry about the prices of HIV/AIDS treatments. Here are the costs you may want to consider.
ART costs: ART is administered in phases as and when needed. They are categorised into first-line therapy, second-line therapy, and third-line therapy. The second-line therapy is only for people who become immune to the first-line drugs. Similarly, the third-line treatment is for people who’ve developed immunity against second-line therapy. The price for first-line treatment is the lowest because it is designed as a generic drug. The price for second-line and third-line therapy is higher.
Price changes based on source: The price of ART drugs varies depending on where you buy them from. If you get them from the government, you get them cheaper because of government sanctions. However, if you buy them from the private sector, you may end up paying double or triple the price.
Your country: The price for your ARTs depends significantly on which country you hail from. Well, there is some good news for Indians. The expenses for ART are one of the cheapest in our nation: government costs were ₹2,000–₹2,200/month for one person for first-line treatment, ₹5,000-₹6,000/month for second-line treatment, and ₹15,000-₹20,000/month for third-line treatment as of 2015. There are numerous ART centres that distribute first-line and second-line drugs for free.
However, several private hospitals tend to decide that patients need second-line treatment despite a stable CD4 count in their blood. Once they start with the second-line treatment, there is no going back. And as mentioned, second-line drugs are expensive. So, if you have HIV, you need to be vigilant about your treatment as well as your health.
Knowing all this now, you should definitely keep HIV/AIDS and other STDs and STIs at bay by practising safe sex at all times. Get yourself checked at regular intervals for STDs. Finally, take proper medication regularly if you ever contract HIV.
Costs for medications and diagnostic tests can pile up quickly. Let Kenko help you. Subscribe to one of our Health Plans and bring all your medical bills to 0: from lab tests to medicines, from doctor consultations to daily healthcare (including sexual wellness).