India has the 3rd highest HIV prevalence in the world. Fact has it- out of 2.1 million people diagnosed with HIV, only 13% are aware of their HIV positive status. Nothing more needs to be said- while some live in denial, many remain oblivious to the existence of a life-threatening disease called HIV AIDS. Sophia McGovern, a student pursuing Global Studies at the Arizona State University responsibly says-
“We are people who care about lowering the number because we care about people!”
She is accompanied by Jody Toliver, a Global Health student and they have one mission to accomplish- educate the mass about HIV AIDS. They boast that they have touched a number of 10,000 odd students; the highest NGO IAPA has ever seen during its Summer Volunteer Program. Founded by students of Arizona University, International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA) aims to provide scientific knowledge about AIDS and erase all misconceptions related to it.
Causes of HIV
Jody Toliver makes it loud and clear-
“AIDS does not discriminate. It is a virus that can affect anybody, anywhere and at any time if they do not take proper measure to protect themselves.”
HIV is caused when blood, pre-ejaculate, mother’s milk, vaginal fluids or semen enter a door or an opening in human body. The opening may be vagina, anus, penis tip or an open wound. Mere casual contact does not spread HIV. Used syringes, needles and other sharp objects (razors, tattoo needles, knives, blades and other surgical instruments) are potential HIV-carriers in blood-to-blood transmission. HIV targets the human body’s CD4 immune cells which helps to keep the body strong. They turn into a HIV producing factory and greatly weakens the immunity system.
While the body fights against the virus, the patient struggles to fight the prejudices formed against HIV AIDS. Actor Charlie Sheen took a leap of faith and publicly announced to the world his HIV positive status. He’s the new global face of AIDS and advocates for the de-stigmatization of HIV AIDS.
Is the stigma greater in India or the U.S? Sophia answers- “In India we get to see it while in America it’s more invisible,” she then jokes-
“Americans seem to have this idea that HIV and AIDS is a problem for everyone else in the world and not for themselves!”
Jody loathes the hush-hush attitude school teacher’s display in class when it comes to HIV AIDS. She says, “They just basically teach how the body works and that’s it! That’s just very alarming for me because 80% of HIV cases are transmitted sexually,” During their teaching sessions in India they observe the class is very reserved and shy initially. Just when the session ends, they are flooded with thoughtful questions raised by the students.
What is being done?
Sophia expresses- “We volunteers have been extremely shocked by how much accessibility there is for treatment and for testing in Tamil Nadu, because that does not exist in America! It’s incredible, the programs that exist here,” Louis Arulraj (Director of IAPA) affirms, “Indian government is taking many steps to prevent HIV,”
In Tamil Nadu, a pregnant woman diagnosed with HIV is prescribed Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and the baby is removed immediately through C-section. Results of the government’s efforts are overwhelming. In truck industry districts like Namakkal the HIV affected have reduced to an impressive 0.25%.
Louis defines IAPA’s motto, “By caring for HIV, we are indirectly preventing HIV.” IAPA has assumed the responsibility to provide quality food and nutrition to 42 HIV positive children under its Arokiya Scheme. Other projects of IAPA include: Trainers of Trainers (TOT), Slum Health Program , Annam project (food and nutrition for 25 HIV positive old widows) and many other initiatives. Louis believes that famous Indian celebrities should come forward and create an awareness about HIV AIDS.
“Our Indians believe anything a famous actor says!”
What is to be done?
Since the youth are our future pillars, it is imperative that they should be equipped with scientific knowledge about HIV AIDS. The sorry-state of affairs calls for action and global participation from one and all as Jody believes, “It’s a work-in-progress that everybody has to be involved in,”
The two knowledgeable women are positive about coming back to India in future and discover the land of diversity. We end the conversation on a light note when Jody brings on the table an interesting comparative which cracks us all up- “We just got a small taste of Chennai…. It’s like sambar! It’s different everywhere you go and we only had a small taste. So this is a big country, we need to come back!”
Chennai will wait to have the dynamic duo back. Hopefully next time they arrive, there should be zero existence of HIV AIDS.