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AIDS: Why young persons must end inequalities

By David Odunsi
09 December 2021   |   2:55 am
What greater inequality can a person experience if they are consistently stigmatized by the society they are a part of because they are living with HIV? What else can better describe inequality than lack...

What greater inequality can a person experience if they are consistently stigmatized by the society they are a part of because they are living with HIV? What else can better describe inequality than lack of access to means of livelihood, health care services and social infrastructure for someone living with HIV. 

How else can you better capture the inequality experienced by someone who is unable to reveal his status to his potential spouse or even friends for fear of societal alienation. There is nothing else that takes greater sense of dignity off a person than their inability to raise their shoulder high in the society and say this is who they are without fear of being deprived of opportunities available to everyone else. Why should a person be treated less equal because of their HIV status?
As we commemorate this year’s edition of the world’s AIDS Day, specific attention is drawn to the need to end inequalities as a strategy for ending AIDS. For a disease entity that thrives significantly on disparities and societal inequalities, we would inevitably achieve great gains by addressing inequality. It is even more interesting to realize that addressing inequalities to end AIDS would automatically help us achieve greater gains in other health care services targeted at diseases that thrive on inequalities. HIV-AIDS and Tuberculosis are like conjoined twins, akin to the medical mantra of “where sodium goes, water follows”, when HIV-AIDS goes up, tuberculosis cases go up too due to the fact that it is a disease that is largely associated with immune suppression which the former is known to cause.

Ending inequalities would require concerted efforts by everyone in the society, there must be a marriage of all strata of our society, the young and the old, the government and civil society organizations, international and local agencies, the HIV community and the larger community, the uneducated and the educated, the whites and the blacks. We must see ourselves as people fighting against a common enemy. The virus needs people to spread, even spreading faster with greater divisions and inequalities amongst people.
Ending inequalities should be the responsibility of each and everyone of us; stigmatisation will be a thing of the past when we have more people ready to stand up for the rights of people who experience stigmatization. We would flatten the curve of newly infected persons when we make the individual commitment to educating the people around us; we would encourage more drug adherence and marriages between people who are positive and negative when we deliberately push out the message that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U), meaning we can break the chain of horizontal and vertical transmission. 
As opposed to the erroneous belief that ending inequalities means gains for the HIV community alone, rather it is greater gains for the world at large, it means we would be able to free up more resources to tackle other global concerns and build a healthier world for the next generation.
What does the global picture of HIV/AIDS look like, perhaps we can draw some insights from the burden of this entity. According to the apex health body; World Health Organization (WHO), year 2020 data revealed that an estimated 37,700,000 people are living with HIV globally, of which there were 680,000 recorded deaths, 1,500,000 people got newly infected that year and out of the total number of people living with HIV, only 73% got access to Anti-retroviral therapy (ART). If like myself you are not a student of Mathematics, you may either not make sense of these figures or find it difficult to come to terms with it. Let’s break it down a bit, 1 out of every 204 persons is living with HIV, every hour at least 78 persons die of HIV, which translate into at least 1 death every minute. 

Can you help pronounce the word Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?, which ironically means fear of long words. By the time you are done with that, at least 3 persons would have become newly infected with HIV, while 171 persons would have been infected within 1 hour. Of the total number of people who should be on ART, 1 out of 4 of them don’t get access to it due to ignorance and other factors. These are the realities we have to deal with; we have to carry this burden together if we are really going to end inequalities whilst aiming at ending AIDS.

What can we do as young people? I would rather rephrase and say “ What can’t we do as young people?”. We are a powerful force: Nothing happens without young people, nothing moves if we don’t move, we are a global force of 1.8 billion people (UNFPA report), we are creative, innovative, result oriented, vibrant, energetic and above all we hold dear the dream of making our world a better place. Imagine how much we can change the dynamics of the HIV/AIDS programme if we get involved in our numbers, imagine how much we can effect change in the world through young people, 1 out of every 4 persons in the world is a young person, evidently there’s no better way to reach more people with the HIV message than through young people. As young people we have the key to ending inequalities, it’s time for us to lead the discussions and initiatives geared towards ending HIV/AIDS. We need to work together to reach our local communities, lead self testing programmes, awareness programmes, monitor health programmes, hold our systems more accountable, educate people on their rights, speak up and stand up against inequalities, proffer solutions and challenge the status quo.
Odunsi is the past medical director, Rotaract District 9110.

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