Why HIV treatment is still undermined by stigma

Why HIV treatment is still undermined by stigma

Context- An HIV diagnosis doesn’t carry the death sentence it once brought. Over the past 30 years, enormous improvements have been made in medicine’s ability to treat patients. For most people across the world, drugs are available for free.

Now, people treated for HIV can live normal, productive and healthy lives — those who take medication can have sex without worrying about infecting their partner.

The US pharmaceutical firm stopped phase 3 trials on a highly sought-after HIV vaccine in January after results found that the jab was ineffective at preventing infection.

(Credits- Times of India)

Still, despite these improvements, HIV cases aren’t falling as quickly as desired and are actually increasing in some parts of the world. A UN report released last summer reported that more than 1.5 million people had become infected with HIV in 2021, around three times the global target.

Of the 38 million people infected with the virus, around 73% were under treatment, and around 15% didn’t know they had it, the report said

Why are numbers continuing to rise in some areas?

  • Experts say that the first step in preventing the spread of HIV is knowing whether you have it.
  • But sometimes people avoid testing out of fear of judgment.

Access to treatment, but lost home and work

  • Herbary Cheung, a social science professor in Hong Kong who has studied HIV stigma among single mothers in Thailand, also said HIV care required long travel for people living in rural remote areas.
  • Religion also impacts how HIV is perceived in Thailand — in the Buddhist tradition, the virus is often seen as bad karma, a sign of bad actions in a past life.
  • This stigmatization caused some to uproot their lives in their small villages to larger metropolitan areas after receiving an HIV diagnosis.

Children’s HIV status reflects on the family

  • Cyrus Mugo is a researcher studying HIV stigma in young people in Kenya, where the virus is endemic. He said that in his country, somebody’s HIV status could impair access to education.
  • Kenya has had access to life-saving HIV drugs since around 2016, he said. But even if people have those drugs, the HIV label often causes families to abstain from sending their HIV-positive kids to the country’s popular boarding schools, where school authorities are certain to find out about their positive status.
  • According to UNICEF, in 2020, children accounted for 35% of new HIV infections in Kenya.

How is HIV treated?

  • The treatment for HIV is a combination of drugs taken daily called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART was first introduced in many developed countries in the mid-1990s, but only became available in developing countries around 2003, when international funding lowered distribution costs.
  • The treatment has been very successful at lowering HIV mortality rates — HIV patients on treatment currently have the same mortality rates as those who don’t have HIV.
  • However, researchers say a daily pill is inconvenient, and a longer-acting treatment would be easier for people to take. These are in the pipeline and available in some Western countries, but not everywhere.
  • Another preventative treatment is the PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is medicine taken to prevent getting HIV), a daily oral medication that is highly effective if taken correctly.

Conclusion- Persons living with HIV can lead a healthy life, if they can access the right medications at the right time. However, the key to access lies in elimination of stigma around the disease.

Source- Indian Express

Syllabus- GS-2; Health