H is for HIV

Ruth Valerio focuses on the HIV infection in her book about ethical living, which may seem strange, but the virus has had far-reaching consequences both here and, particularly, in sub-Saharan Africa.

I have a particular interest in HIV having spent many years as a HIV specialist nurse at the MRI and undertaking a study of the ethical ramifications of the criminalisation of HIV transmission for an MA thesis.

My own experience demonstrated how HIV often impacted the most vulnerable in our society. People who were seeking asylum, trying to escape violent regimes, and who had avoided testing for HIV due to the stigma, then arriving in clinic quite considerably ill and needing comprehensive care. Even simple things, like having a fridge to properly store medication, were issues that I, as their nurse, sought to resolve.

Women were often the most deeply affected by this virus – many women that I cared for had contracted it through rape, many were ostracised and were unable to work or provide for themselves, let alone access medication. They were often condemned for having HIV, meaning many avoided testing – even when pregnant. Sadly, this sometimes meant I had to break the devastating news that their child had contracted the infection, too. Even taking measures to prevent their baby getting HIV was difficult as it involved not breastfeeding, which was often expected and, therefore, they would be questioned when they didn’t.

Thankfully, treatment and management of HIV has improved dramatically. Whereas, in the late 90s, treatment often incorporated a complex tablet regime, nowadays, treatment can be as simple as one tablet a day.

And, if this is taken regularly, the virus can become undetectable and therefore not transmittable. Furthermore, advances in treatments and understanding mean that transmission of the infection from mother to baby can now be prevented with some quite simple measures.

However, whilst treatment is readily available here in the UK, this is not the case the world over. And, if treatment is not taken regularly, resistance to it can develop, causing further complications. The virus, despite all our advances, still has huge economic implications.

In Swaziland, 27% of the population is HIV positive, and Botswana is not far behind at 21% - that’s means at least one person in every five is infected.

One of the main ways to tackle the situation is prevention through education –, particularly among young people. UNICEF estimates that over 50% of young people aged 15-24 have never heard of AIDS or do not know enough to prevent infection. Empowering and enabling women is also key.

As Christians, there are many biblical principles that are important here. We see it reflected in Jesus refusal to bow down to the social conventions of his day, and in his compassion for those who were stigmatised and outcast (eg Mark 1:40-42). Whether through supporting charities that work in HIV prevention and Women’s rights, actively campaigning for better education, or praying for the advancement of research, there is much we can do.




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