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The Paradox of ARVs in the AIDS Campaign

By Vision Reporter

Added 21st November 2011 07:26 PM

The New Vision, on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 reported in their story, ‘Makerere Starts Search for HIV Cure.’ This innovation being taken by Makerere University scientists and local herbalists to find a cure, in form of a herbal remedy, for HIV/AIDS is good news for people living with HIV/AIDS but i

By Josepha Jabo
 
The New Vision, on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 reported in their story, ‘Makerere Starts Search for HIV Cure.’ This innovation being taken by Makerere University scientists and local herbalists to find a cure, in form of a herbal remedy, for HIV/AIDS is good news for people living with HIV/AIDS but it still has to be subjected to the rigorous scrutiny of any scientific research to prevent misguiding the populace. 
 
However, a positive outcome will provide a cheaper alternative to the expensive Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs) once the research is complete. Until then, people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda will still have to take ARVs like Tenofovir and Lamivudine.
Now, here is the paradox of ARVs. While ARVs improve the quality of life of those already infected with HIV virus alive; they have given a feeling of self-satisfaction to many and possibly encouraged sexual promiscuity hence endangering lives.
 
The availability of ARVs on the market could be one of the factors that have played a major role in the complacency that has sprung up, especially in married couples, engaging in risky or reckless sexual behavior. Currently, Uganda’s HIV prevalence rate is 6.4% and in Uganda, an estimated 350 people get infected with HIV every day!
 
In Uganda, other ‘most-at-risk’ populations are truck-drivers, sex-workers and fishermen. In addition, according to a report released by the Crane Survey (an HIV/AIDS health project survey carried out with Makerere University School of Public Health, Ministry of Health and the US Centres for Disease Control) in July this year, 7 out of every 100 boda-boda riders are HIV-positive. 
 
Nevertheless, many people in Uganda no longer fear HIV/AIDS, as they once did, because they know ARVs are there. HIV/AIDS is no longer a ‘death sentence’ and those who have tested HIV-positive are no longer referred to as ‘walking corpses.’  
 
They are no longer ‘victims’ or ‘bewitched’ but are now referred to as ‘HIV patients’ or ‘people living with HIV/AIDS.’ This is because ARVs have made HIV/AIDS a ‘manageable disease’ just as diabetes is a ‘manageable disease.’ We no longer see the terrifying AIDS pictures of gaunt, skeletal, bedridden AIDS patients that once instilled fear. 
 
On the contrary, one of the side-effects of ARVs is they can make an HIV patient develop ‘trunkal obesity’ (the patient’s upper-body look fat) as opposed to ‘SLIM’ the nickname associated with HIV/AIDS in the 80s and 90s. Hence, the HIV patient does not really look ‘sick.’ Consequently, ARVs have taken away the fear of HIV/AIDS and replaced it with a false sense of security. 
 
False in the sense that ARVs give the HIV patient the impression he or she has ‘cured’ when there is no cure.
However, even when one is on ARVs one is expected to go to the clinic for a monthly check-up, eat a balanced diet, keep fit, leads a healthy lifestyle, spiritual wellbeing  and a stress-free life. Drug abuse and alcohol consumption negates the effectiveness of the drug. This means a lifestyle change is crucial. 
 
Secondly, people on ARVs still have to use condoms with their partners otherwise the HIV-patient faces the risk of acquiring more virulent strains or subtypes of the HIV virus. Additionally, one has to take into account instances where ARV resistance might occur which results in treatment failure.
 
In Uganda, the ABC model has been instrumental in fighting HIV/AIDS. However, the availability of ARVs has always undermined ‘A & B’ in the ABC model because it emphasizes ‘C.’ A being ‘abstain while single,’ B being ‘Be Faithful in marriage’ and ‘C’ being, ‘Condom-use,’ ideally, the AB model would have been the best option because ‘C’ has always challenged ‘A & B’ in the ABC model.
 
People who abstain do not worry about going for HIV testing whereas people who are sexually active do. Also, people who abstain do not expose themselves to unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, STIs and protect themselves (better than any condom ever could) from acquiring HIV/AIDS. The same applies for people who are faithful in marriage.
 
The time has come for Uganda to promote such messages. More money should be pumped into preventive campaigns through the media which promote A & B because if we are to achieve our goal of having an AIDS-free generation people need to hear ‘True love Waits’ and ‘Get off the Sexual Network’ morality messages over and over again—they can never hear it enough.
 
The Writer works for Uganda Media Centre
 

The Paradox of ARVs in the AIDS Campaign

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