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Public health concern

Geraldine Panapasa
Monday, December 04, 2017

ON December 1 every year, health organisations and stakeholders gather to commemorate World AIDS Day, an event set aside to create awareness and education about this emerging health issue that continues to affect thousands of families globally.

The event usually focuses on the success of worldwide efforts to combat HIV and AIDS, as well as the importance of continued support for these efforts.

This year, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services commemorated World AIDS Day in the Old Capital, the theme aptly focusing on addressing the stigma relative to those who live with HIV/AIDS and how they cope with the disease.

Recently, about 60 new cases of HIV have been recorded by the ministry and more than 740 people have been confirmed as living with HIV since the first case was reported in Fiji in 1988.

So far, only 14 people have gone public with their HIV status in the hope it would continue to drive home the message that protection and control are vital for the eradication of the AIDS epidemic by 2030 — a target set by UNAIDS who is leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Two years ago, HIV and AIDS champion and advocate Ratu Epeli Nailatikau revealed that youths between the ages of 14 and 29, and 30-39 age group were the most vulnerable to the disease in Fiji, adding this was the group advocacy campaigns should target.

He had said the most sexually active bulk of youths were in the working and education sector.

Ratu Epeli perhaps alluded to one of the most important messages in the fight against HIV and AIDS when he said families, especially parents, had a huge role to play but they had to face the facts.

"That's the thing, it is not a subject you should speak to in isolation. You should speak to the whole family. Some parents are still reluctant to hear you talking about the sexual connotations but we've got to face the facts," he had said.

According to the United Nations, US scientists reported the first clinical evidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in June 1981. Two years later in 1983, scientists discovered its cause — the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

"HIV is found in the bodily fluids of a person who has been infected — blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk.

"It can be transmitted through unprotected sexual contact. It is also spread among people who inject drugs with non-sterile injecting needles, as well as through unscreened blood products.

"It can spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding when the mother is HIV-positive," the UN explained on its website about the global issue.

Data from the UN also revealed that millions of people had become infected with HIV and AIDS since the epidemic started and in 2015, more than 36 million people were living with HIV, millions more had subsequently died as a result of AIDS-related illnesses.

Although massive progress has been made to combat the soaring rate of infection. New antiretroviral treatments have been introduced to help extend the lives of those who were infected and according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), global efforts have resulted in 19.5 million people worldwide receiving lifesaving antiretroviral treatment as of September 30 this year.

However, there are still about 36.7 million people still living with HIV worldwide according to the CDC but since the peak of the epidemic in 2005, annual AIDS-related deaths had declined by 48 per cent.

In Fiji, the effort to combat the rising number of HIV and AIDS-related cases continues to be priority for the Health Ministry.

Last year, Minister for Health and Medical Services Rosy Akbar had said more than 300 people living with HIV were on the antiretroviral treatment and that Fiji was on the right track to achieving the goals of eliminating mother-to-child transmission before 2030.

Taking a proactive approach to reducing the risk of infection is important.

Here are some important steps from the ministry to help fight HIV and AIDS:

* Always practice safe sex.

* Use a condom.

* Being faithful to one sexual partner.

* Make informed decisions about your sexual health and ensure you are equipped to practice safe sex.

* Always use clean needles or syringes and other injecting equipment, never share such items.

* Never share tattooing equipment.

* Have regular medical check ups if you are sexually active.

* It is your responsibility to inform current and past sexual partners if you have contracted HIV/AIDS.

While the ministry has revealed that there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are still a lot of ways to help people living with HIV and AIDS stay healthy and live longer such as getting the right information and support, following a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise as well as remaining active in family and community activities to stay focused and strong.

Remember, HIV is not spread by shaking hands, touching or hugging an infected person.

It is not spread by sharing clothes or a swimming pool or even a cup or food with an infected person.

Let's join the global fight today to eliminate HIV and AIDS by 2030.

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