0193B: World AIDS Day 2014

Every year, December 1 marks World AIDS Day, a time to remember our commitment to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS. And while AIDS isn't necessarily the greatest cause of death in the world and there are many equally serious diseases that require attention, today remains a time to highlight the fact that HIV/AIDS awareness still needs a lot of work and the stigma associated with the disease continues to make things worse. With global infection rates going down, the fight against HIV/AIDS is especially relevant here in the Philippines since our infection rates continue to rise.

There's a lot that can be done to help with this fight. Our primary effort continue to center around raising awareness - to this day a lot of folks are still confused about how one becomes infected with HIV and what steps can be taken to prevent infection or at least minimize risks. A lot of folks argue that they feel healthy or that they don't show any symptoms, and thus have no reason to fear HIV. But the very irony of that  notion is that HIV in itself has no distinct symptoms that distinguish it from just getting a fever. When HIV is prevalent enough in one's system to make a serious impact on day-to-day health, then it's probably a little late in the game.

The second major effort typically involves the need for people to get tested and know their HIV status at all times. There's a lot of stigma associated with HIV and AIDS and thus even the very thought of getting tested scares a lot of people. Many don't want to be seen getting tested since they think it implies that they were engaged in morally questionable behavior or something along those lines. Others are afraid to get the results since there's always that 1980's perception that contracting HIV is a death sentence in itself.

We've come a long way in terms of AIDS research and treatment options. And while there is still no known cure or vaccine against HIV/AIDS, it is very much possible for anyone living with HIV to live a pretty normal life. It should be no different than being diagnosed with asthma or diabetes - it's something you'll live with the rest of your life and you'll need to make certain lifestyle changes in order to cope with it.

And thus the third angle, the need to fight the stigma associated with the disease itself, becomes equally important. We need to stop looking at HIV/AIDS as something "dirty" or a result of bad behavior. This is not solely a "gay problem" since it can affect anyone regardless of gender. And while HIV/AIDS is always going to be a serious cause for concern, it is not the end of the world.

Even if you think you don't have risk factors, it doesn't hurt to get tested regularly. Getting tested is not a statement of distrust in your partner or anything like that. It's just the responsible thing to do and should be part of anyone's regular health activities. There should be no reason to think that an annual health check-up doesn't have to include an HIV test. And no, this is not automatically part of your blood work since Philippine law requires that the person should clearly agree to taking the test and should go through the obligatory pre and post testing counseling regardless of the result.

Don't be stupid. Don't be afraid of the bogey man. Get tested regularly and recommend that your friends get tested as well.