HIV Awareness should be elevated all year

Despite 30 years of work towards eradicating HIV, South Africa continues to have one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world.

Whilst it is great news that ARVs have shifted HIV from a terminal illness to a chronic manageable condition, the number of people living with HIV in South Africa at 5.26 million is still alarmingly high. This shift is highly dependent on a person’s means, access to good medical care and nutrition and very importantly, early detection is the first step. Of the estimated 10% of the population that is HIV-positive, about 17% are women in their productive years.

While World HIV Awareness Month in December certainly helps to encourage a higher consciousness of HIV, Palesa Khambi, Head of Communications at Marie Stopes, says HIV awareness should be elevated throughout the year, but in a way that is responsive to the shifting face of a mature epidemic.
While reproductive rights for women who are HIV positive is important, careful family planning with a healthcare provider is advised.

High prevalence

“One month of concentrated awareness around HIV is just not enough. With HIV prevalence still high it is clear that awareness around the disease and how it is transmitted, the risk factors, importance of testing, and benefits of early diagnosis and treatment remains low,” She says.

Khambi stresses the importance of “knowing your status”- a phrase that is widely-coined, particularly during HIV / Aids Awareness month. But what does it mean to the average person who feels healthy enough?

“What many people still don’t realise is that people who have HIV often feel fine and can carry on as normal for quite some time. But, HIV attacks the CD4 cells which normally defend the body against illness and eventually leads to a weakened immune system.

“When people with HIV don’t get timely medical treatment, the virus can destroy so many CD4 cells that their bodies no longer have the ability to fight infections and diseases anymore. This is when HIV can lead to Aids.

 “Everyone who is sexually active should undergo HIV testing every six months and those who engage in risky behaviours should go for HIV testing more frequently, bearing in mind the ‘window’ period between possible infection and date of testing during which infection might not be detected,” advises Khambi.

High-risk behaviour includes:
•    Unprotected sex with multiple partners
•    Unprotected sex with someone you don’t know
•    Unprotected sex with a person who has HIV
•    Unprotected sex with someone whom you know has simultaneous sexual       relationships with other people
•    Unprotected sex with someone who has a STI
•    Having sex when you are infected with a STI
•    Sharing needles for injecting drugs with other people

Khambi reminds people that Marie Stopes offers HIV testing as well as counselling.
Some of the 19 Marie Stopes centres also offer CD4 counters to provide clients with immediate CD4 counts without waiting for laboratory results to be processed and a full range of sexual and reproductive health information and services to communities across the country.

Khambi reassures that all of the centres are run by competent, compassionate and qualified nursing staff.
“Your visit to a Marie Stopes centre and the results of your tests are treated with utmost confidentiality. Think of us as your ‘one stop shop’ to enhance your sexual health and peace of mind.”

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