December 1 of each year is World AIDS Day, which is a time for people worldwide to unite and learn about HIV/AIDS, support people living with HIV, and commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
According to worldaidsday.org, an estimated 36.7 million have the virus worldwide and more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS.
What is HIV and what is AIDS?
There are many resources available to learn more about these conditions. Here is information from the hiv.gov website: HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. It is spread by contact with certain body fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly through unprotected sex, or through sharing injection equipment.
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged because of the virus. In the U.S., most people with HIV do not develop AIDS because taking HIV medicine every day as prescribed stops the progression of the disease.
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are different medications to help control HIV and help people to live longer, healthier lives.
HIV and AIDS can impact mental health
It is important to know that people living with HIV or AIDS related-illnesses are at twice the risk of developing depression than people who do not have HIV or AIDS. The rates of depression can be as high as 20% to 40%. Depression can also increase a person’s chance for developing other chronic diseases such as heart problems, diabetes or kidney disease. The good news is that depression, mood disorders and other problems like anxiety can be treated.
The most important thing when someone is diagnosed with HIV is consistent medical care. The second most important thing is to find ways to cope with the reality of living with the illness. Coping with living with this illness can be very challenging. Visiting with your health care provider about changes in the way you are feeling and thinking is important. Your doctor can visit with you about side effects from medications and changes in your health due to the HIV or AIDS illness. Be sure to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter drugs or other substances you are using. This is important in helping your doctor plan the best treatment for you.
Support systems are rooted in love, understanding and education
It is also critical that we all support those living with HIV. We can play a role in the health of those living with this illness through kindness and understanding, and by remembering that words hold a lot of power.
Another important aspect of a good support system is knowledge. It is ideal to use the word HIV when talking about someone living with HIV. AIDS is the conditions that occur when a person’s body is weakened by HIV. AIDS itself is not a disease and cannot be acquired. It’s important to always refer to a person with HIV as a person. People living with HIV are not victims, sufferers, or someone to be feared.
Talking about HIV is one way you can stop the negative beliefs and stigma about HIV. Knowing what to say or do can be difficult. Let others see you being kind to those with HIV. Become educated about the facts of HIV and transmission so that you can share truths with other people. Do not be afraid to get tested for HIV because it is an important part of health care. Remind others not to make judgments about those who have HIV.
If you have HIV or AIDS, you are not alone
For those living with HIV, It can be a difficult choice to tell your family or friends you trust, but doing so may help you cope. It may also be helpful in making medical decisions or emergencies. You do not have to tell your employer. If you chose to tell, they are required to keep it confidential.
Most times, people who are living with HIV have the right not to tell others; however, there are some laws to be aware of. In some states, the law requires you to inform sexual partners and injection drug-use partners that you have HIV. It is important for them to know so they can take steps to protect their health. South Dakota state law states that intentionally exposing someone to HIV is a felony.
Telling your partner or others who may be exposed to your blood, tissues or infectious body fluids protects you medically, legally and ethically. It also helps others and affects the decisions they make.
Part of helping those who are living with HIV is to stop the stigmas. It takes everyone in our communities to stop the negative beliefs and ideas about the transmission of HIV. Stopping those stigmas starts with each one of us.