World AIDS Day
Although it has been almost 40 years since the first documented cases of AIDS occurred, we still have a lot to learn. The disease is still severely stigmatised and misunderstood. On world AIDS day, we aim to educate and share what we know thus far.
The first news story broke on 18 May, 1981 in the Centers For Disease Control: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in New York, USA. It discussed the condition of 26 patients in particular, of which eight had died
The article spoke of “skin lesions” and “dark blue to violaceous plaques or nodules” on the skin, and the patients often had secondary infections and conditions such as pneumonia, herpes or meningitis.
At first, the group were diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumonia. Unfortunately, the first name given to differentiate the disease from others was GRID. This stood for gay-related immune deficiency.
This was because initially, this disease was thought to spread among homosexual men and drug addicts only.
Soon after it was discovered that the disease was not limited to homosexuals and it was renamed as AIDS. Yet, it is still stigmatised to this day.
We now diagnose patients with HIV, which is what we call the earlier stages of infection. It is possible to manage and live with HIV, having a normal, full life, and never progress to AIDS.
However, one must not underestimate the disease, as it has killed over 30 million people.
HIV is transmitted though the following ways:
- Unprotected sexual relations
- Blood-borne transmission can be through needle; sharing during intravenous drug use, needle-stick injury, transfusion of contaminated blood or blood product, or medical injections with unsterilised equipment
- HIV can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, during delivery, or through breast milk, resulting in the baby also contracting HIV
HIV and South Africa
It is said that South Africa has the highest amount of people living with HIV, not just in general but percentage wise as well. We have about 20% of the world’s total HIV infections.
In 2018, 140 000 women in South Africa and 86 000 men tested positive for HIV. In the same year, 4.7 million women were living with HIV compared to 2.8 million men, according to avert.org.
Poverty, the low status of women and gender-based violence have all been cited as reasons for this disparity in HIV prevalence.
Are we getting anywhere?
South Africa has made huge improvements with regards to HIV testing, as it has met the first part of the 90-90-90 targets in 2018. This means that 90% of people who lived with HIV were aware of their status. In 2020, we have progressed to 92%.
To be virally suppressed, as shown in the image above, means to have the virus almost undetectable in your blood – and greatly reduces the chance of transmission and illness due to the virus.
South Africa was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to fully approve PrEP as a prophylactic measure, which is now being made available to people at high risk of infection.
Studies in the 80’s showed that those infected with HIV would develop AIDS and perish within 10 years.
By 2010, our national life expectancy was at 56 years of age – due to the rampant spread of HIV. By 2018, it increased to 63 years. We are indeed, making slow but steady strides.
It is also very possible to have a child without transmitting HIV to your baby. A mother can greatly reduce her child’s chances of contracting the virus if the following is considered:
- Taking anti-retroviral (ARV) medications during pregnancy
- Making a careful choice between caesarean and normal delivery
- Not breastfeeding
- Having the baby take ARV’s for a specific time after the birth
It is a goal of South Africa to have zero transmissions from mother to baby by 2022.
With regards to our current focus
One pandemic affects another – access to medical care and medication has been limited since SA went into a nationwide lockdown in March. Although lockdown restrictions have been lifted mostly, cases of COVID 19 diagnosed at the clinics among staff often results in a temporary shut-down, and patients leaving empty-handed.
As we’ve seen with the current rate of vaccinations, many patients are avoiding trips to clinics and pharmacies in fear of contracting the COVID 19 virus. Those with HIV are at high risk, but this is all the more reason to stick to your treatment.
When patients are non-compliant with their medicine, the virus can build a resistance to it. It also gives the virus the upper-hand to gain momentum, which will be detrimental, should the patient contract the COVID 19 virus at any point.
Mopani Pharmacy as your partner in support of HIV
If you are unaware of your status, you should definitely get tested – especially if you are pregnant.
We offer screening and counseling for HIV. “We offer extensive support at Mopani Pharmacy to our HIV positive patients. We will discuss the ARV therapy goals, to make sure that our patients understand exactly how to keep themselves and their partners safe and healthy”, Responsible Pharmacist Corné Cilliers explained.
“The next step is to explain the use of medication, and possible side effects. Some may be tempted to leave their treatment because the side effects are too severe. Please don’t. Side effects only last a few months, and you really need to stick to your regimen, religiously. Set alarms on your phone or keep a diary if you have to! You should always keep at least three days’ worth of medication on you, so you never run out. ”
It is important to remember that this is a lifelong treatment and can never be stopped. Having one pharmacy dispensing your chronic and acute medicines is beneficial, “We will be able to cross-reference your medicines for contra-indications and be able to make good recommendations on which supplements would be most beneficial for you”, said Corné.
Mopani Pharmacy also offers Blister packs to keep track of which medication should be taken when, and can dispense this monthly, so you never run out of medication.
For more information, visit: www.sahivsoc.org | National Aids Helpline : 0800 012 322 | National HIV Health Care Workers Hotline: 0800 212 506