HIV has changed. Significant progress has been made in responding to HIV/Aids and science continues to offer new hope. Advances in research and increased availability of potent anti-retroviral treatment (ART), has transformed HIV care from a once life-threatening disease to a now chronic condition. World Aids Day is celebrated on December 1 and provides an opportunity to unite globally in the fight against HIV, raise awareness and show support for victims. This year, the World Aids Day theme is ‘Communities make the difference.’ Milestones in addressing HIV have been achieved when working directly with communities most affected by HIV.
Access to innovative HIV treatment has transformed lives of victims globally, resulting in reduced transmission, reduction in deaths and improved quality of life. We have global targets set by the UNAids to inspire and drive progress towards stopping the spread of HIV and ending Aids. Our aim is that by 2020, 90 per cent of people living with HIV will know their status, 90 per cent of victims will receive sustained ART and 90 per cent of all people receiving ART will have a favourable treatment outcome of achieving viral suppression.
HIV has indeed changed in leaps and bounds, from the scientific front, with extraordinary breakthroughs in treatment and prevention of HIV. We however still have a long way to go in addressing emotional challenges faced by those living with HIV, whether psychological, social or societal. Life expectancy for patients on ART has increased to near-normal levels and HIV treatment is no longer just about prolonging life. We are now looking beyond viral suppression, to a fourth 90 in the global targets, which is to ensure good health-related quality of life for 90 per cent of people living with HIV. We must shift the focus of HIV management from merely surviving with HIV to thriving with a life beyond HIV. To achieve this, emotional and stigma related challenges of people living with HIV must be identified and addressed.
Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and those at higher risk of infection continues to inflame this disease and dampen efforts and progress made towards ensuring people enjoy full, healthy and productive lives. ‘Positive perspectives’ is a recent global survey that was conducted to better understand experiences of people living with HIV. According to this survey, 82 per cent of respondents had experienced stigma within the past year. We need to tackle the causes of stigma, including scaling up education and awareness efforts to eliminate the fear and misinformation that leads to stigma. Shifting negative behaviour and changing societal norms that fuel stigma, will require a multi-level sustained approach, railing against stigma and discrimination.
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There is need to establish an open and active dialogue among different players including healthcare providers and their patients. Talking about HIV at peer to peer or wider societal level may help support a person’s emotional well-being and help shift misconceptions about HIV. HIV-related dialogue is key in the quest to empower victims to take back control of their lives and transform the virus from an intimidating illness to a manageable part of life. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and ViiV Healthcare are committed to working towards making HIV a smaller part of their lives and have a mission to ensure no victim is left behind. We are committed to developing and strengthening partnerships targeted at achieving our vision of world free of Aids.
HIV has changed, but what needs to change next? Striving for survival is no longer good enough. There is need to adopt a holistic approach to care, focused on physical and mental well-being, and to drive progress towards meeting the needs of people living with HIV. Now more than ever we need to collectively make a commitment and work together with remarkable courage and steadfast tenacity, in accelerating our efforts towards making HIV a smaller part of people’s lives. We must strengthen our partnerships for targeted and strategic impact, work boldly and in solidarity, inspired by the opportunity to realise an Aids-free generation and a future where victims have the power to thrive. For more information, please contact your doctor.
-Dr Michelle Kisare is a Public Health Specialist working with ViiV Healthcare as a Regional Medical Scientist, Middle East and Africa.