World AIDS Day: Stories of Hope and Progress in Orenburg Region

2023-12-01 09:42:18

World AIDS Day. Photo from the archive

Every year, December 1 is celebrated around the world as AIDS Day. And this is not just a date, but a way to bring closer the victory over discrimination against HIV-positive people, as well as a way to raise people’s awareness of the modes of transmission and methods of preventing the immunodeficiency virus.

There is an opinion in society that HIV-positive status indicates a person’s marginality or low social responsibility. Of course, this is fundamentally not true. HIV can affect anyone. Even a newly born child.

Statistics

According to the state report “On the state of sanitary and epidemiological well-being of the population in the Orenburg region in 2022,” the proportion of pregnancies among HIV-positive women resulting in childbirth has increased in the region: from 48% in 2006 to 80% in 2022. In order to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child, 293 HIV-positive pregnant women, or 98% of those who completed their pregnancy, received medication. High coverage of HIV testing among pregnant women and the provision of chemoprophylaxis have significantly reduced the number of infections among children. In 2022, 299 children were born to HIV-positive mothers, HIV diagnosis was confirmed in 6 children, or 2%. As of January 1, 2023, 632 children born to HIV-positive mothers were registered at the dispensary, of which 393 were confirmed to have HIV, 239 children were removed from dispensary observation with a negative HIV test result.

Life of a child with HIV. Marina’s story

Marina (name changed) was born in Orenburg in 2003. Her mother was HIV positive. She refused Marina. Then the girl was sent to an orphanage. It is difficult to imagine what an ordinary child experiences when he finds himself within the walls of such an institution. For Marina, the situation was complicated by her positive HIV status. She has had it since birth.

In fact, my grandmother asked my mother to give me up. My family knew that I was born with HIV. I think that was the determining factor. I know that my mother did not take therapy and died soon after. I was 2.5 years old then. It was difficult for me to grow up. It didn’t get any easier every year. In adolescence there were also enough problems. I was bullied. It was a lot. I was seated at a separate table and given special forks and spoons that no one else used. When they beat me, they put plastic bags on their hands to prevent infection. I was also bullied at school. Although by the time I was studying there was already a lot of information about HIV, no one cared about it.

It’s difficult for Marina to accept her status, but the girl doesn’t give up. She takes antiretroviral therapy and attends self-help groups. She hopes that one day she will be able to talk calmly about her disease.

Honestly, I did not accept my diagnosis. I go to self-help groups. I hope that I can gradually accept this fact. I think misconceptions about HIV-positive people are largely to blame. This results in both discrimination and stigmatization. I always felt misunderstood. It seemed to me that I was superfluous in this life. At the same time, as a child, I did not understand the reason for bullying. Why do I need this? How am I different from them? These questions were constantly spinning in my head. It was scary and very upsetting.

At the same time, Marina is not afraid to talk about her HIV status. She lives openly. Of course, due to traumatic experiences in childhood and adolescence, she expects a negative reaction from society, but there are much more positive moments in her adult life.

Some people know about my status. A very warm story about my friend. When I told her that I have HIV. The only question she asked me was whether I was taking pills. I then said no. I had a difficult period in my life. I often wondered: “Why was I born at all?” My friend then literally took me by the hand and led me to the AIDS Center. I was registered. She still supports me now. Another pleasant story is related to work. We once talked with colleagues about volunteering and foundations. I talked about people who help HIV-positive people. Then one day I told them that I had HIV. I expected that they would turn away from me and ask me not to approach them again, but this did not happen. Moreover, they supported me. Such situations encourage me and make me believe that in the future, HIV-positive children will not have to face everything that I had to face.

Despite all the difficulties, Marina plans to lead an ordinary healthy life. She wants a family. Antiretroviral therapy allows HIV-positive mothers to give birth to a completely healthy child. A pregnant woman is prescribed a course of medications. Timely start of taking medications can reduce the amount of virus in the blood of a pregnant woman to undetectable and almost completely prevent infection of the baby. By the way, a woman or man cannot become infected if their HIV-positive partner takes therapy.

I haven’t taken therapy for a while. I drank as a child. Now I started again. It works very well for me. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to live a normal life. In the future I plan to have a healthy child. I would like to wish all people who are faced with a similar problem not to lose heart, so that they know that they are not alone. If there is no support among your loved ones, they can always come to a mutual support group, where they will be listened to and definitely helped.

How acute is the HIV problem in the Orenburg region?

Previously, we talked about the fact that the Orenburg region is in 5th place among the regions of the Russian Federation in terms of HIV incidence among the population, the number of registered cases has reached 41,029 people. What is HIV anyway? And how is it different from AIDS?

HIV is a human immunodeficiency virus. The disease progresses very slowly. For many years, an HIV-positive person may not even be aware of the diagnosis, since it gives practically no clinical manifestations. However, at a certain point, HIV progresses to the AIDS stage. AIDS is already an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. With this syndrome, the body’s resistance becomes so low that a person can develop infectious diseases that other people practically do not get sick with or get sick extremely rarely. These diseases are called “opportunistic”. The immune system can no longer cope with even the simplest infections, including ARVI. A person dies not from AIDS, but from diseases that he cannot fight.

Can HIV be cured?

No, HIV cannot be completely cured yet. However, it can be brought under control and you can live a long life. To do this, it is enough to take antiretroviral therapy (ART). When taking ART, the viral load decreases and the virus cells become inactive. As a result, an HIV-positive person cannot transmit HIV.

Is it possible to start a family if you are HIV positive?

Yes. Taking ART reduces the viral load, as a result of which a person cannot infect his sexual partner. With proper medication use, this likelihood is reduced as much as possible. Moreover, a woman can give birth to a completely healthy child while being HIV positive.

Routes of HIV transmission:

Unprotected sexual contact; Sharing injection equipment; A child can become infected while in the womb of an HIV-positive mother who is not taking therapy, as well as through breast milk. You cannot become infected with HIV: By airborne droplets; Through a mosquito bite; Through the use of common utensils, toilets, etc.; With a kiss, a hug.

HIV is found in maximum concentrations in:

Blood; Sperm; Vaginal secretion; Breast milk; Cerebrospinal fluid.

It turns out that the main types of HIV prevention are the use of condoms and sterile instruments (including syringes). Detailed statistics for the Orenburg region.

Remember that HIV is not a death sentence. When taking antiretroviral drugs correctly and regularly, HIV-positive people lead full lives. However, HIV can persist for a long time without clinical manifestations. The disease can only be detected through testing. Take care of yourself and your loved ones – get tested for HIV.

Earlier we told you that the organization ANO “New Life” launched a unique remote HIV self-testing service for the Orenburg region. Anyone can order an HIV test anonymously and free of charge, and then – remotely – receive help from a consultant who will tell you how to do the test and interpret its results. Read more.

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