This yearâs local theme, “Getting to Zero â Supporting Positive Living, Community by Community,â calls on us to adopt a community approach to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
AIDS or “Acquired Immunodefiency Syndromeâ (a syndrome being a cluster of medical conditions) AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which weakens and then destroys the bodyâs immune system.
HIV/AIDS has spread rapidly in the last two decades, causing massive human death and suffering, particularly in the developing world. There is a growing recognition that HIV/AIDS is not just a serious health issue in developing countries, but a major developmental catastrophe that threatens to dismantle the social and economic achievements of the past half century.
HIV/AIDS is a fatal, sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD). Once a person is infected with HIV, he or she is infected for life. In all but a very small proportion of cases, HIV/AIDS destroys a personâs immune system.
The time between becoming HIV positive and the onset of AIDS varies. In industralized countries, the average time between infection with HIV and the appearance of symptoms is about 10 years; but in the poorest countries of the world, without access to proper care, the time is sometimes as short as five years. Once an HIV-infected personâs immune system is severely damaged, he/she becomes vulnerable to life-threatening “opportunistic infectionsâ (e.g. pneumonia, tuberculosis) and is diagnosed as having AIDS. Most patients succumb to opportunistic infections within two years after the onset of AIDS.
Current data suggests that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been moving steadily into younger and younger population groups. Eighty-three per cent of the reported cases were in the age group 15-54 years, and 50 per cent in the group 25-34 years. Since it takes five to 10 years for the progression from Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) infection to AIDS, it means that the latter group contracted the infection between the ages of 15 and 24 years. In this group, females are particularly vulnerable and are affected four to six times more frequently than their male peers. This epidemic, therefore, targets young people, particularly young females, and selectively affects the labour force.
Currently in the Caribbean, the level of information on HIV/AIDS is high. Governments, regional and international agencies have expressed strong commitments to address the various aspects of the epidemic in the region. Several activities have been initiated at the national and regional levels. However, as the epidemic continues to evolve, additional challenges will be presented.
It is therefore important for us to have a multisectoral approach involving community participation. The community must play its role in advocacy, the fight against stigma and discrimination, to support those affected and to prevent others from being infected. By strengthening community participation and by working together we can get to zero.
Dr Rosmond Adams is a medical doctor and a public health specialist. He may be emailed at email@example.com