Team CaféEvery year, on December 1, the world comes together to commemorate the lives lost and those affect by the world’s longest running epidemic, AIDS. On World AIDS Day, the United Nations remembers those who have died of AIDS related illness, support people living with HIV (PLHIV), celebrate achievements in the space of HIV/AIDS, raise awareness and unite to combat the virus.Forty long years have gone by and yet there seems no respite in sight. HIV/AIDS remains a global crisis. As one enters the fifth decade of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is important to ask the question, ‘Why is it so difficult to fight this virus?’ Globally, there is a lot of engagement and advancement in the HIV response, yet India is still lacking behind manifold. According to UNAIDS, though there was 54 percent decline in new HIV infections since 1996, an estimated 1.5 million individuals have acquired HIV in the year 2021. “According to National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), India was estimated to have around 62,970 new HIV infections in 2021, with 15,000 new infections among young people (15-24 years). Though this is a huge decline, it is still alarming. The numbers in Goa are even more so, given the area and population, at 196 new infections in 2022. This indicates that there is still lack of awareness and gap of knowledge,” says Celina Menezes, an Advocacy Officer for the Indian Network of people living with HIV.Ever since the introduction and access of free anti-retroviral therapy, the first generation of epidemic survivors are growing up and growing old. The prospect of an increased lifespan gives them hope and raises their spirits to dream like any other. But the challenges pertaining health, education, social life, employment and so on continues. Pranab Barui, Psychosocial Wellbeing Lead at Human Touch Foundation says, “While adolescents and young people who are positive face hurdles of growing up with the Virus, adults on the other hand, face issues ageing with it. Although HIV has gained the status of a manageable chronic illness, mental health is a rising concern among people living with HIV (PLHIV). PLHIV hesitate to seek support with a fear that the disclosure of their status will expose them to a life a difficulty and facing rejection in society.”In other efforts, science has advanced in the field of HIV. The use of drugs like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) that can be administered to individuals who are at a high risk of acquiring HIV. While PEP is often used in medical settings especially in case of rape, PrEP is a fairly recent entry into India. Awareness, availability and easy access prevention methods including comprehensive sexuality education is the need of the hour to decrease the number of new infections especially among young people. Greater availability of self-testing kits needs to be considered among the general public. Laws and policies protecting the rights of PLHIV need to be rectified. The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 2017 is still not notified in the state, even after five years. Human Touch Foundation has been catering to unmet needs of Adolescents and Young People Living with HIV (A&YPLHIV). Since they are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues associated with HIV, the organization through psychosocial support, also provides a safe space for young people living with HIV to express their concerns, build resilience and achieve an optimum level of well-being. Human Touch Foundation is hosting the 4th edition of Goa Red Ribbon Fest 2022 today, December 1, at Jardim Garcia de Orta (Panjim).Applesta da Costa, Head of Operations at Human Touch Foundation says, “With this year’s theme ‘Equalize’ for World AIDS Day, there is urgent need to end the inequalities and discrimination that further cause AIDS and other pandemics to thrive around the world. The theme is a call to everyone to join hands, vocalise and act on in the HIV response to end AIDS by 2030.”
It is thus necessary to educate people about HIV, express solidarity with people living with the virus, encourage testing, demand for care and treatment services and promote better health care systems. This will bring us closer to the UNAIDs 90-90-90 global HIV target to help end the epidemic.