On Saturday December 1, a small contingent of Guyanese joined more than 100 countries around the world to celebrate the 30th anniversary of World’s AIDS Day under the theme, “Know Your Status.”
It is meant to urge people worldwide to know their HIV infection status through testing and access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. World AIDS Day was founded by the United Nations and was first celebrated on December 1, 1988. Countries in which AIDS was considered taboo are now offering testing and treatment for the virus.
World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for people worldwide to draw attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is important to remind the public and governments that the virus still exists and that it is vital to increase its awareness and educate people against prejudice.
World AIDS Day is also meant to commemorate loved ones who have died from the disease, to show solidarity and celebrate those who survive and those living with the virus, and to raise money to combat it.
The Red Ribbon is recognized as the universal symbol of awareness and the global fight against Aids. The colour red is chosen for its boldness and for its symbolic associations with passion, the heart and love
Despite medicine to treat the virus, HIV/AIDS remains a deadly disease. According to UNICEF, in 2016, AIDS was the second leading cause of death globally and AIDS related deaths among adolescents have tripled since the virus was first discovered in the late 1970s.
It is the number one cause of death in Sub-Saharan Africa where young women aged 15 to 44 are disproportionally impacted by the epidemic. In Africa, an average of 1,068 young women were infected with HIV every day last year.
Since the outbreak of the epidemic, more than 75 million people have contracted the illness world-wide, and about 36 million have died from it, leaving roughly 10 million orphan children behind.
It is estimated that nearly 37 million people worldwide are living with the virus today of which 20 million or 60 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 90 percent of children infected with HIV live on the continent. To date, 25 million of AIDS related deaths have occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.
AIDS affects only human beings, it is like other viruses such as the flu or the common cold, except that the human immune system can get rid of colds and flu, but not the HIV/AIDS virus.
HIV is spread through sex and certain body fluids such as blood, semen, rectal and vaginal fluids and breastmilk from mothers infected with the virus. It is also transmitted by sharing needles and syringes, etc.
Once someone is infected with the virus, it stays with that individual forever, but antiretroviral (ART) medicine helps to control the virus so that people infected with HIV can live a longer, healthier and normal life expectancy. ART also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to full-blown AIDS, which is the final stage of the virus.
Despite the scientific advances made in treating the disease, it continues to affect the Caribbean, including Guyana.
Based on recent data from the World Health Organization, about two percent of the adult population or 300,000 people in the region are living with HIV, which is higher than any other region except Sub-Saharan Africa.
Several factors account for the epidemic—poverty, gender and tourism, and stigma. Although the exact origin of the disease is unknown, the first reported AIDS case occurred in Jamaica in 1982 among bisexual and gay men and in Trinidad and Tobago.
In Guyana, there is a high HIV incidence, which has spread beyond specific high risk groups into the general population. Based on a population ratio, Guyana is second to Haiti with 7,000 cases of HIV.
However, tremendous efforts have been made in reducing the number of AIDS-related deaths from 480 annually a decade ago to about 150 today. The Guyana government is committed to eliminate the epidemic by 2030.
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