HIV stands for Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV). It is one of a group of viruses known as retrovirus. After getting into the body, the virus kills or damages cells of the body’s immune system. The body tries to keep-up by making new cells or trying to contain the virus, but eventually the HIV wins out and progressively destroys the body’s ability to fight infections and cancers, thereby paving way for life threatening opportunistic infections to thrive. This later becomes AIDS.
AIDS, on the other hand, stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome . It is caused by HIV and occurs when the HIV virus has destroyed much of the body’s defenses that the immune-cell counts fall to critical levels or certain life-threatening infections or cancer develop.
The illness interferes with the body’s immune system making people with AIDS much more likely to get infections that ordinarily would not affect people when their immune system is functioning well.
HIV infection has now spread to every country in the world. Statistic shows that approximately forty million people are currently living with HIV infection, and an estimated 25,000,000 have died from the disease. The scourge of HIV has been particularly devastating in sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa.
Causes Of Human Immune-Deficiency Virus/AIDS
HIV/AIDS is transmitted and can be contracted in a number of ways. These include the following :
(i) Sexual Transmission
Most HIV infections in Nigeria and in the world at large are as a result of heterosexual sex, that is sex between the opposite sexes (male and female). This is due to lack of information about sexual health and HIV, low levels of condom use and high levels of sexually transmitted diseases. Women are the most infected. Sexual transmission most commonly occurs when there is a contact between sexual secretions of an infected person with the rectal, genital or oral mucous membranes of another. The virus can enter through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum or mouth during sex.
(ii) Blood Products
HIV transmission through unsafe blood accounts for the second largest source of HIV infection in Nigeria. This is because not all Nigerian hospitals have the technologutto effectively screen blood. Recipients of blood transfusion and blood products stand a risk of getting infected with HIV from contaminated blood or blood components. This is why blood should be properly screened to ensure that it is not infected with HIV before it is passed or transfused into the body.
(iii) Sharing of Sharp and Piercing Objects
This is another cause of HIV infection in the world. HIV is frequently spread among injection-drug users who share needles or strings that are contaminated with blood from an infected person. It can also be spread in health-care centres through accidental needle sticks or contact with contaminated fluids. Medical practinioner such as nurses, laboratory technologist, etc, should ensure that used syringe and needles are not re-used for other patients under their care. The virus can also be spread through sharing of unsterilized barbing clippers, razor blades, and other sharp piercing objects for pedicure and manicure .
(iv) Mother-to-child Transmission
An expectant mother (pregnant woman) who has been infected with HIV can pass the virus to her unborn child if she is not treated. The transmission of the virus from the mother to the child can occiroin the womb (uterus) during the last weeks of pregnancy and at child birth.
HIV AIDS patient in hospital
Symptoms and Effects of HIV/AIDS
The symptoms of HIV/AIDS include the following :
- Flui-like illness
- Sweats (particularly at night)
- Weight loss
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Swollen glands
It is noticed that many people do not show or develop symptoms when they first contact HIV. Also, the progression of the disease varies widely among individuals or group of individuals. Some of the symtopssymentioned above usually disappear on their own within a few weeks. After that, the infected person feels normal and has no symptoms. This development is known as the Asymptomatic phase. This phase may last for a few months go more than ten years. During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and HIV infects and kills the cells of the immune system. The virus destroys cells that are the primary infection fighters, a type of white blood cell called CD4 T cells. Even though the person has no symptom, he or she is contagious and can pass HIV to other through the routes mentioned above.
AIDS is the later stage of HIV infection, when the body begins loosing it’s ability to fight infection. The CD4 T cells count fall low enough and an infected person is said to have AIDS. Sometimes, the diagnosis of AIDS is made because the person has unusual infections or cancers that shows how weak the immune system is.
The infection, called opportunistic infections, takes advantage of the opportunity to infect a weakened host. These infections include:
- Severe fever
- Weight loss
- Prolonged cough
- Skin cancer
- Prolonged diarrhoea
- General body weakness
- Severe headache
- A change in mental status
Stigmatization Of People Living With HIV/AIDS
Stigmatization is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. It also means to openly condemn as disgraceful.
HIV/AIDS stigmatization and discrimination occurs due to pre-existing stigmatization based on sexuality, gender, race and poverty. Because HIV/AIDS is mostly sexually transmitted, it is believed that homosexuals and promiscuous women and men are to be blamed for the epidemic.
Also, HIV/AIDS stigma can be based on gender. For example, in some areas where heterosexual transmission is significant, the spread of the infection has been associated with female behaviour that is not consistent with gender norms examples prostitution is widely perceived as acts by female that is against social norms, and female sex workers are often perceived as ‘rector’ of the infection who put their clients and their clients’ sexual partners at risk.
Furthermore, racial and ethnic factor contribute to HIV/AIDS related stigmatization. Here, the way people of a particular race or ethnic group are perceived determines how they react to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and how people outside their race or ethnic group would relate to them.
Lastly, the social class that an individual belongs determine the level of people he or she rotate with in the society. The poor, homeless, lawless and jobless are more stigmatized and discriminated than the rich and affluent. As a result, poverty increases vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. In some contexts also, the epidemic has been characterized by assumption about the rich, and HIV/AIDS has been associated with affluent lifestyles.
People living with HIV/AIDS are openly abused and maltreated due to their status. The consequences are not palatable and included the following:
- Rejection by family
- They suffers rejection from friends and peers
- The community rejects them
- Poor treatment at healthcare facilities
- Poor treatment in education settings
- Denial of rights
- Psychological damage.
As a result of all the above highlighted consequences of stigmatization, many people are afraid to visit the hospital to know their HIV/AIDS status or seek treatment if they have the disease. A number of factors contribute to the stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS. these include the following;
- HIV/AIDS is a killer disease and therefore people react to it in a strong way.
- AIDS is often thought to be the consequence of a wayward life or personal irresponsibility.
- AIDS/HIV is associated with behaviors that are already stigmatized or rejected in many societies. Such behaviors include prostitution, drug addiction, etc.
- There is misperceptions and wrong information about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted creating irrational behavior against people living with HIV/AIDS.
EFFECT OF STIGMATIZATION ON PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS
Stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS has alot of adverse effects. Research by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) found the possible consequences of HIV related stigma to be :
• Loss of income/livelihood;
• Loss of marriage and child bearing option;
• Lack of attention by some medical personnel;
• Withdrawal of care giving in the home;
• Loss of hope and a feeling of worthlessness;
• Loss of reputation.
To avoid the consequences or effects above, there is a need to do the following to the people living with HIV/AIDS
(i) Show them love and care.
(ii) Relate to them as normal human being.
(iii) Do not discriminate them or deny them of their rights.
(iv) Accept them so as to enable them have a sense of belonging.
(v) Give them necessary healthcare and support when needed.
(vi) Give them work to earn income for a living (might not necessarily be hard job).
(viii) Do not see them as suffering from the consequences of prostitution or promiscuity. You need to understand that some people got infected through blood transfusion or sharing of needles or syringes.