By: Annie G. Cooper, MSN, FNP- BC
Annie G. Cooper
On December 1, 2013 people in Liberia and around the world celebrated World AIDS Day, a day set aside to raise public awareness on HIV/AIDS. As the day was celebrated,
I could not help but think about the many lives lost in Liberia in recent times from preventable and or treatable diseases such as typhoid fever, hepatitis , tuberculosis (TB) etc. This brings me to wonder if lives are lost from these Preventable and treatable ailments, what will happen if HIV becomes wide spread in our country.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus can only infect humans. It destroys the white blood cells resulting in the progressive deterioration of the body’s ability to fight infections.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2012) reports that HIV is the world’s leading infectious killer and the strongest risk factor for developing active tuberculosis (TB). Approximated 36 million people have died from HIV. In 2012, HIV accounted for 1.6 million deaths. 35.3 million People worldwide are living with HIV with majority being middle to low income people. 2.1 million of these HIV infected people are children between the ages 10-19. 700 children worldwide become infected with HIV each day. (WHO, UNSAID 2012)
In Liberia, 22,000 people are living with HIV (UNAIDS).
1.5 percent of adult ages 15 to 49 are HIV positive with women caring a higher burden than men (1.8 % to 1.2%). This gender disparity is three times more evident in young girls ages 15 to 24 (National AIDS Commission ,2012.)
The HIV Virus (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is mainly spread through unprotected sex. Other mode of transmission includes contaminated/infected needles used to inject drugs or contaminated sharp instruments used for body piercing or tattooing as well as contaminated blood and blood products. Children are vulnerable since the virus is passed on from infected mothers during birth and breast-feeding.
Up to current, researchers have not found cure for the HIV virus. However, scientists have developed antiviral medications that can decrease the HIV viral load to the extent that it minimizes the destruction of the immune system and as such prolongs life. Additionally, pregnant women, who take the HIV medication in a timely manner, are also able to give birth to unaffected babies.
There are preventive and risk reduction measures for HIV. These measures include: abstinence, avoiding multiple sex partners, protective sex using latex condoms, avoiding use of infected needles, syringes, sharp objects, such as ones used for tattoos, body piercing, getting tested and encouraging your partner to get tested. In case one is infected, early and or timely treatment is encouraged.
The 2013 global theme for HIV Awareness Day held in Liberia and elsewhere according to organizers was: “Getting to zero:” Zero New HIV infections; zero Discrimination, Zero HIV related deaths”. In fact, some of the global goals set for 2015 include: Reducing sexual transmission by halve, eliminating HIV transmission among children, closing the global AIDS gap, etc.
For many Liberians, the theme and goals seem far-fetched from the current reality in Liberia. First, we are a high-risk group where the possibility of HIV epidemic exists, according to statistics. As you may know, significant portion of our population is young, and sexually active. For example, 43.5 % of the Liberian population is below the age of 15, while the median age is18 years. (WHO,2012). Globally, majority of people infected with HIV/AIDS are between the ages of 14 to 49, with young people ages 15-24 carrying a higher burden. (USAIDS, 2013 update.)
Second, the severe lack of job opportunities and advancement for our Liberian youth at home are related concerns. The lack of opportunities may open doors to risky behaviors such as prostitution which of course will increase the rate of HIV/AIDS among this group.
Third, statistics shows that majority of HIV infected people are within the middle to low-income groups, another characteristic that defines a significant portion of the Liberian Population.
Fourth, the lack of adequate health facilities, trained health professional as well as affordable health care and lack of education are all barriers in meeting the 2015 HIV goal. All of these huddles make the work of the National AIDS Commission, (NAC) in Liberia difficult in successfully implementing HIV programs.
How do we in the Diaspora help? We need to begin with our selves. Get tested and know your HIV status. Learn all you can about HIV and how to prevent and minimize its spread. There are volumes of information and facilities that will give free, simple educational material on HIV/AIDS.
Most importantly, let us begin to educate our people at home and provide them with any preventive measures possible. We in the Diaspora are fortunate to communicate with our people in any section of Liberia via phone, texts, e-mail etc. So let us use any contact with our people as a teachable moment . For instance, when sending money via western union or money gram, add a few dollars for condoms. Throw Some HIV pamphlets/material and condoms in barrels you send home. Give them the following quick facts on HIV and add any other information you may have:
engage in risky sex behavior.
I know there are so many other huddles but if we are consistent and vigilant in raising HIV/AIDS awareness, our people will get the message and will push for more HIV services in the country.
So, let’s begin now. If you call, throw in a few words on HIV /STDS prevention... Remember, sex is the number one means of HIV transmission. So don’t’ be shy to talk about sex and HIV infection. People, especially young people know a lot more about sex than you may think.