HIV/AIDS continues to be a significant global health issue, having claimed over 32 million lives so far. 38 million people in the world were living with HIV at the end of 2019. It's been about 50 years we've known about this fatal disease. But things were a little different back then. Let's go down the memory lane, shall we?
It is believed to have originated in the 1920s, around a century ago. But it was not known and transmission did not involve any noticeable symptoms. It was not until the 1980s when it started to get noted and symptoms were being tied to the disease. The first cases detected were in gay men. And we all know how that went. It became a 'gay disease'. The increased cases in gay men suggested that the cause of the immune deficiency was sexual and it was actually named Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. This obviously brought the stigma, that the people contracted the virus because they were gay. And it was the 80s, being gay was not something people could be proud of. The society was not "that" open-minded. This went on until '83, when it was detected among the female partners of men who had the disease. This did clear the confusion of how homosexuality is not at all related to the disease, naming it Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. However, the stigma still prevailed. It just broadened the demographic, only growing stronger and stronger, over the course of time.
The society judged, and still judges, people who contracted the HIV, assuming that the cause was sexual, which is seen as a taboo. Whereas in reality, as we all know, whatever be the cause, it is as fatal getting it by sharing drug needles with someone who is infected, as it would be through unprecedented sexual relations. And, moreover, where did we get the right to judge people? And that too on something that might one day come knocking on our door. Why there are still people who look at them differently, doctors who refuse to treat HIV/AIDS patients on the grounds of suffering from a "gruesomely filthy" disease, is just beyond me. And the worst part of any epidemic, just like the COVID19 pandemic, it is intertwined with our mental health.
The "stigma", as we call it, is a smear of disgrace and shame associated with, in this case, being affected by HIV/AIDS. No matter how we tell ourselves that we're making progress, still there are awkward silences and statements like, "Metal health is just a thing that unsuccessful people created as an excuse." Whereas mental health is directly associated with our physical well being, and in AIDS, it affects the patient irrevocably. And we fail to realize these issues and brush them under the rug, primarily because of the severe stigma linked it them.
With increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure it surely has become a manageable chronic condition, which has indeed enabled people to live longer and healthier lives. But the stigma still exists, in the society, deep-seated. And to uproot that, we need to stop discriminating people, stop undermining the very seriousness of the matter, and start supporting them, standing up for them, treat them with respect and dignity at the least, because they deserve to be treated like any other human being.
Many don't realize the suffering of the ones affected, the countless lives lost to AIDS, the pain of those who have lost a loved one to it. It is our responsibility to do everything at our disposal to save their lives, to remove the stigma present, to support people perturbed by AIDS. To that end, let us reconstruct the HIV/AIDS narrative with love and respect for everyone. Let us celebrate this World AIDS Day '20 in all its true glory.
Happy World AIDS Day!