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Stigma and Discrimination intensify AIDS burden

Approximately 36.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2015. A whopping 18.2 million people are receiving antiretroviral treatment worldwide. Advances in diagnosis and treatment have dramatically transformed the lives of many people living with HIV, but the social gap is still critical.

HIV is different from many other diseases in a way that it presents complex physical, emotional and social concerns. Research surveys and doctors suggest that stigma and discrimination are among the foremost barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. While the WHO is making efforts to improve HIV self tests to bridge the huge gap between undiagnosed cases and people on HIV antiviral therapy, all HIV prevention efforts are undermined by making people afraid to seek HIV information, services and modalities that treat the infection.

A major fraction of HIV positive people don’t disclose their status even to family members and sexual partners. A recent study conducted by UNAIDS in conjunction with the National Aids Control Organization (NACO) points out that more than 36% of the Indian population feels it would be better if infected individuals killed themselves. About 50% would not associate with people with AIDS, and many believe that AIDS is a punishment from God. The hostility index suggests a negative attitude towards people living with HIV.

Another report by the World Bank and the International Centre for Research on Women "Tackling HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination in South Asia" says that despite prevention and other efforts to reduce high-risk behaviors such as unprotected sex, buying and selling of sex, and injecting drug use, HIV vulnerability and risk remain high. The study concluded that stigmatizing attitudes in the general population has intensified the problem.

Almost 30 years after the onset of the epidemic, HIV stigma and discrimination—is still fed largely by ignorance and animus. In most societies, AIDS is associated with groups whose social and sexual behavior does not meet public approval. People believe that only gay men, prostitutes and drug users can get AIDS, which is not entirely true. People are still denied and fired from jobs, kicked out of residences, ordered to limit contact with family, and discriminated against in many other ways because they have HIV. The best way to tackle prejudice is to educate your children and young adults about the modes of transmission of HIV virus and to dismiss all the persistent misconceptions.

Here’s what you should tell your children:

What is HIV?
- HIV stands for "Human Immunodeficiency Virus"
- HIV attacks the immune system in most people to the point that they develop more serious infections
- HIV infection ranges from asymptomatic form to full blown disease called AIDS.

What is AIDS?
- AIDS stands for "Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome"
- AIDS is the terminal stage of HIV infection.

How is HIV spread?
HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the following body fluids:
- Blood (including menstrual blood)
- Semen ("cum") and other male sexual fluids ("pre-cum")
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk

HIV is not spread through these body fluids:
- Sweat
- Tears
- Saliva
- Urine
- Feces

The most common ways HIV is passed from one person to another are:
- Re-using and sharing needles and other drug equipment for injecting drugs.
- Unprotected/unsafe sex
- Mother-to-child (during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding)

HIV is not transmitted by casual contact such as:
- Shaking hands
- Hanging out with some who is HIV positive
- Hugging
- Sharing food or drinks
- Using a shower, bath, or bed used by a person living with HIV
- Kissing

Prevention of HIV
One of the most important messages you can share with your children is that HIV can be prevented. HIV cannot be transmitted except when certain body fluids are exchanged. Teach your children that they can greatly reduce the risk of transmission by:
- Avoiding contact with sexual fluids by always practicing safer sex(using condoms or other barrier methods)
- Not injecting drugs, or if they do, always using new, clean needles and other drug equipment.

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