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Women and AIDS

For every ailment under the sun,

There is a remedy or there is none.

If there is one, try to find it,

If there is none, never mind it.

 

These lines by Longfellow are probably meant to give strength to accept the helpless situation that comes with certain diseases. But situations cannot be accepted so easily.

 

Doctor Testing Blood Samplewhen lives of 40 million people are at stake. Yes, that is the statistics provided by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS of the people suffering worldwide from the most dreadful epidemic of 21st century called AIDS. HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body, lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells. This then breaks down the resistance of the body and leads to AIDS Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome. Since the beginning of the epidemic, AIDS has taken 30 million lives all over the world. Though there is intense research going on, it will be another decade before a cure may be discovered. However there are medications which if taken in the early stages of infection help to increase the life span of the infected person to an extent. But when human negligence is the primary cause in the spread of this disease, precaution and prevention should be our first step.
 

In a society where women have always had fewer choices than men, her risks are naturally higher and so is the case with AIDS. The biological and socioeconomic factors make women particularly susceptible to the tentacles of AIDS. Information from studies show that during heterosexual sex, women are about twice more likely to infect HIV from men than men from women. Research is being undertaken to develop microbicide – a kind of gel or cream which can be applied vaginally to kill the HIV and prevent infection.

 

But a woman’s biological disadvantage is not the only leak in her vulnerability to AIDS. The socioeconomic status and factors are largely responsible for the growing disease among women. AIDS is neither air borne nor water borne disease. There are basically three ways of transmission of this disease which is aggravated by the surrounding circumstances.


A child is highly prone to acquire the HIV from his infected mother at the time of birth or breast feeding. United Nations AIDS/WHO says that at the end of 2005, there were an estimated 2.3 million children living with AIDS, most of whom were infected at birth. A woman is a bearer of life but our collective indifference and ignorance has lead to her sentencing death even to the new born life. In case the child survives, orphan hood is a punishment in itself. WHO estimates there are 15 million AIDS orphans around the world.
The second common cause of transmission of this epidemic is through infected blood contact. The most pervasive reason is by way of reuse of needles and syringes in hospitals without disinfecting them, which may be carrying HIV virus. Though there is a stress for disposable injections, lack of awareness and poor health services in developing countries still does not lead to giving due importance to these issues.
 

Substance abuse through injections is also widespread among women today. Reports show an estimated 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses for women are related to injection drug use. Using injection equipment contaminated with HIV is definitely a risk with substance use but even women who smoke or snort or use other non-injection drugs are at high risk for sexual transmission of HIV if they sell or trade sex for drugs. And such trading is not uncommon given the addictive nature of drugs.

But the worst consequence of drug abuse and the most common cause of AIDS is unprotected sex. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, people are at high risk of unprotected sex. But very often it is the position of women in our society that makes them so vulnerable to mute sexual exploitation. Poverty, illiteracy, destitution and now a greed for money among young urban girls has lead to a burgeoning profession of prostitution. Conservative societies with archaic and irrational rules still force young girls to sleep with multiple partners against their will. Sexual inequality in relationships with men does not let women ask her partner to use proper contraceptive measures. Men with bisexual relationships are at higher risk of contracting the virus, while their female partners may not be aware of it.

The epidemic has grown out of proportion with a serious threat to the present and future generations. This situation warrants our immediate attention. More than medical break through, it needs a paradigm shift in our attitude and understanding. If our society stops seeing women as a sex object and if women unite to rise above their exploitation, much of the disease can be controlled. Sex is not meant to satisfy lust. It is an expression of love that culminates into ecstatic experience. But for the lascivious and rigid mindsets, it is difficult to understand this. The situation is aggravated due to complete ignorance amongst the general public about AIDS, its causes and prevention. The responsibility of its awareness is not of NGOs or government alone .If each educated woman educates one ignorant woman, we would shoulder the cumbersome task of the government to a large extent. It is time to assume personal and public responsibility. AIDS is not something that happens to poor, colored people of third world countries alone. It could happen to any one of us if we are not alert or aware enough. And when this disease comes, it breaks down the sufferer physically and emotionally and his dear ones day by day and minute by minute. But this personal havoc does not call for isolation or hatred from others. The infected person has as much right to live a happy and normal life as any one of us. This ailment surely calls for remedy but more than that it calls for love, support and understanding towards the sufferer and a clear knowledge about the prevention of this death knell among the people of the world. Our lives are too precious to be let rotten by some virus.