We have all grown up hearing the adage 'Prevention is better than cure' since our very childhood — brush your teeth twice to protect them from decaying; wash your hands before eating food to avoid a stomach upset; do not eat uncovered street food; get vaccinated against diseases like polio; get rid of stagnant water to stay clear of malaria and dengue; exercise to stay fit; and so on and so forth. No one wants to argue with these time-tested measures, which if followed can reduce one’s chances of contracting a disease; forget about trying to find a cure later.
But when we talk about an issue such as AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, the whole prevention angle seems to be misconstrued. People have been warned about AIDS and the virus causing it, HIV (Human Immnuodeficiency Virus) for over 20 years now. But has it been enough? AIDS has already killed millions of people, millions more continue to become infected with HIV. But still the point is far from being driven home — There is neither a vaccine nor a cure for AIDS; the only way to remain safe is by not getting infected.
To this end, the ABC (abstinence, be faithful and use a condom) campaign to prevent HIV infection needs to be seen in new light. With more and more people indulging in unprotected sex, especially youngsters, the mystery and confusion surrounding it needs to be cleared, and this can be best achieved by imparting sex education.
Sex education, both from the family perspective and the government in general, has become a hot topic of debate, with very less being done to clarify the doubts nesting in the boggled young minds. We have to go beyond showing a ‘single’ documentary at school, which only leaves the minds more baffled and curious. Family discussions need to be more focused emphasising on the fact that it can happen to anyone and so the need to understand the facts correctly to help members make an informed decision.
According to a survey, 51 per cent of the people in India feel that AIDS has a cure, 65 per cent do not use condoms while having sex with ‘unknown’ partners and only 73 per cent practice abstinence before marriage. About 95 per cent people believe that it can never happen to them. This is a telling picture of the crude information engulfing our society.
The idea of prevention can only be realised when people are informed about how they can protect themselves and their partner, and if infected how they can take care of themselves and prevent from spreading the infection. If the government takes a firm step to inform and educate the masses how to prevent from getting HIV/AIDS, it will also help to bring down the cost of health care required at a later stage after one gets infected.
In 2007, the number of people worldwide living with HIV is estimated to be 33.2 million, 2.5 million people became newly infected and 2.1 million people died of AIDS. The brutal truth is that this number includes 2.5 million children who get infected with HIV much before they actually get to know about prevention. The transmission of the virus from HIV-positive mothers pushes 3,80,000 children to the jaws of death every year.
These statistics only reinforce the need for prevention — by drugs so that the virus is not transmitted from HIV-positive mothers to their infants and thereafter by proper sex education so that people can make an informed choice.
Ignorance may be bliss sometimes, but definitely this does not apply to AIDS. Preventing ignorance is the first step, and it should happen not only on the World AIDS Day, but should be an ongoing process.