By Paul Wanaye
HIV medications and prevention methods are working. So why do new infections continue? HIV complacency is a problem that will only be helped by all of us becoming involved with AIDS awareness.
The advent of antiretroviral medications has certainly been great news for those people infected and living with HIV. People are now living longer and AIDS diagnoses and deaths are down. But with every bit of good news there seems to be some bad news as well.
Due to prevention efforts, the number of new HIV infections is down. But why are so many infections occurring each year? In fact, while new infections have gone down, HIV and AIDS among Ugandans are at a record pace. Many feel the reason for this trend is simple; HIV complacency and a lack of AIDS awareness.
These facts have health officials concerned about a growing HIV complacency and a lack of AIDS awareness, especially among groups most at risk. Among persons living with HIV, there is a growing lack of concern about becoming re-infected, and in turn more risks are being taken.
While it is true, AIDS cases are declining, the number of people living with HIV is on the rise. In addition, new HIV infections have remained stable and in some parts of the country are on the increase. In Uganda, female and male infection rates are approaching record rates. All these things point to the continued need for prevention efforts.
Past prevention efforts have been effective in changing behaviors that in turn have slowed the epidemic overall. However, some high-risk behaviors such as unprotected sex continue at far too high a rate among those not infected as well as those infected.
While HAART therapy has been proven to decrease progression to AIDS and results in living longer, the long-term effects of the drugs are just now beginning to become evident. While vast improvements have been made, the pills still can be difficult to take and even more difficult to tolerate. Side effects such as diarrhea, nausea and fatigue among others make therapy less than a walk in the park.
Even the slightest diversion from prescribed regimens can result in resistant virus, which makes treatment even more difficult. And resistance is not limited to those who have problems staying on schedule. Even patients who take their medicines exactly as prescribed can develop resistant virus. Like any other illness, the fact is that treatments are not perfect and may not be effective in some people. The best solution is not to get infected at all.
In the past, AIDS rates have been a reliable indicator of HIV infection trends. That is no longer true. With the decline in progression to AIDS diagnosis, we are now finding it difficult to monitor where and how new infections are occurring, making prevention and treatment issues even more difficult. Some believe we have never been so close to losing our ability to monitor the epidemic.
So while funding for treatment is on the rise, prevention dollars are slowing fading away. One can't forget the importance of prevention in beating this disease. Without continued prevention efforts, the fight is only going to get tougher.
The writer is activists