Since the first case of HIV/AIDS was described in 1981, there have been many widely held but false beliefs (myths) linked to the disease.
On World Aids Day we once again have the opportunity to address some of those myths by looking at the facts.
Myth 1: “There are no benefits in taking treatment for HIV. It will harm me more than the HIV infection”
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection and is recommended for everyone infected with HIV. The benefit of ART is usually considered to be higher than the risk associated with taking the treatment due to the urgent need to control HIV. In general, ART helps people with HIV live healthier, longer lives.
The benefits of ART do not stop at the level of the individual. There is growing evidence that these benefits translate to the immediate society, with declining mortality rates, increasing adult life expectancy, reduction in HIV incidence and improvements in economic productivity.
Like all medicines, ART also has side effects. It is therefore up to treating doctors to decide on the most appropriate treatment for each individual patient.
Myth 2: “I have sex, but am not at risk of contracting HIV.”
Any sexually active person of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can be infected with HIV. You are however at greatest risk if you:
1. Have unprotected sex, especially with multiple sexual partners
2. Have another sexually transmitted infection (STI). STIs produce open sores on your genitals that acts as doorways for HIV to enter your body.
3. Use intravenous drugs and share needles
4. Are an uncircumcised man. Studies have shown that the lack of circumcision increases the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV.
It is important to take note of these risk factors in order to put measures in place to prevent the transmission of HIV.
There are now more options than ever before to reduce the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV.
The options available to effectively reducing the risks are:
• Using medication that treat HIV
• Using condoms
• Medical male circumcision
• Having only low-risk sex
• Only having partners with the same HIV status
• Not having sex
Some options are more effective than others and combining prevention strategies can be even more effective. But in order for any option to work, it must be used correctly and consistently.
Myth 3: “If I test positive for HIV it also means that I have AIDS”
Testing positive for HIV, or having HIV disease, does not mean you have AIDS. Many people are HIV positive but don’t get sick for years. HIV can however lead to AIDS by weakening the body’s immune system. People with AIDS suffer from opportunistic infections. Being on ART can reduce the rate of developing these opportunistic infections and most people who are adherent to ART stay healthy.
Myth 4: After years of treatment, HIV/AIDS is not a health issue anymore and everything is under control
Even though the estimated annual number of new HIV infections in 2016 across the world was 39% lower than in 2000 (1.8 million versus 3.0 million), an estimated 36.7 million people of all ages were living with HIV worldwide in 2016.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 25 adults living with HIV, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide.
It is also important to note that in 2016 alone, 1 million people died of HIV-related illnesses worldwide.
Educate yourself about HIV AIDS. Get tested, know your status, and stay safe.