HIV (Human Immune-deficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens the immune system. The immune system defends the body against infections or diseases. HIV breaks down the immune system so that your body is not able to fight of disease or infection properly. Once a person is infected with HIV, he or she is infected for life; there is no cure for HIV.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) occurs when HIV has largely destroyed the immune system of an infected person over a period of time. You can die from HIV/AIDS.
In Fiji, incidences of HIV have increased over the last 25 years from 0.7 to 7 per 100,000 population. This could be due to better diagnosis and reporting of cases, but may also reflect a true increase in the number of cases.
Isnâ€™t AIDS and HIV the same thing?
NO! Though they are often spoken of together, they are NOT the same thing.
How do people get HIV?
HIV/AIDS is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is transmitted when blood, semen (â€˜cumâ€™ and â€˜pre-cumâ€™) or vaginal fluid from an HIV positive person gets into the body of an uninfected person. This can happen through;
Infected bodily fluids (sexual contact)
- This includes pre-cum, semen and vaginal fluids
- Vaginal intercourse without a condom (risk)
- Anal sex without condom (high risk)
- Oral sex (risk)
Infected blood and blood products
- Exposed infected blood from cuts, sores or open wounds
- Unclean/sharing needles and unclean piercing or tattoo equipment
- Mother-to-child transmission at pregnancy and birth
Myths about how HIV is spread
There is often misunderstanding and stigma about how HIV is spread, the following list is a list of how HIV is NOT SPREAD.
- NOT by shaking hands, touching, hugging or kissing an infected person
- NOT by sharing clothes or bedding with an infected person
- NOT by sharing the same bath or swimming pool as an infected person
- NOT by sharing the same cup, plate, food and drink with an infected person
- NOT by attending school, work, church or other social activities together with an infected person.
- NOT from mosquitos, fleas, head lice or any other insect
- NOT from toilet seats
Living with HIV/AIDS
People living with HIV can be healthy and show no signs of sickness for a long time. It can take many years for an HIV positive person to develop AIDS. This is good news for people living with HIV, but also means it is important to get tested and practice safe sex to prevent further spread.
Although there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are lots of ways to help people living with HIV/AIDS stay healthy and live longer.
- Get informed â€“ the more people know about HIV/AIDS, the better they can look after themselves. You can ask your doctor or an HIV/AIDS organisation for more information.
- Get Support â€“ having support from the family, friends and community support services can help people with HIV to have a better quality of life.
- Remaining active in family, community and workplace helps to keep people with HIV strong.
- Healthy lifestyle â€“ following a healthy diet, rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and having adequate rest and exercise will help a person with HIV to stay well for longer.
- Get regular medical checkups â€“ it is important for people with HIV to get access to information at an early stage.
What Treatment is available?
There is no treatment or drug available right now that can totally cure a person of HIV â€“ but there are drugs that can be used to reduce the damage to the immune system that is caused by HIV.
The treatment called anti-retroviral therapy (ART) can reduce levels of the virus and increase the quality and duration of life for people living with HIV.
In the Pacific, ART is available to people living with HIV/AIDS. Government and NGOâ€™s are working hard to ensure that treatment and support is readily available for those in need.
Antibiotics can also be used to prevent and treat some sicknesses that come with AIDS.
Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART)
What you need to know about ART;
- ART needs to be taken every day for the rest of a personâ€™s life. It needs commitment and support to stay on the drugs and it can be harmful to stop taking the drugs once you start.
- Regular check ups with a specially trained doctor are needed to monitor treatment.
- Sometimes the drugs can have side-affects.
- ART does not cure HIV, but it may allow people to have a better quality of life, and a longer life, if used consistently and correctly.
- ART can reduce the level of HIV in the blood
- ART can reduce the risk of an infected mother passing HIV onto her unborn child.
- Once on ARV medicine, you must have a healthy diet and exercise regularly
- You should also avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
HIV and Pregnancy
HIV can be passed from an HIV positive mother to her baby during;
- Labour and delivery
But passing HIV from mother to baby can be prevented. HIV positive women can still get pregnant and have a normal pregnancy, but they must take careful steps not to pass on HIV to their baby through;
- Safe delivery
- Taking ARV medicine
- Infant feeding method discussed by your doctor
- Early booking, within the first 3 months
In Fiji, ante-natal clinics (ANC) and maternity hospitals offer HIV testing at the beginning of the pregnancy so that support, treatment and advice can be given to mothers.
Reduce your risk of HIV infection
Here are some important steps to reduce your risk of HIV infection.
ALWAYS PRACTICE SAFE SEX!
- Using a condom each and every time you have sex, from start to finish can greatly reduce your chances of infection.
- Being faithful to one sexual partner who is faithful to you reduces your risk.
- Make informed decisions about your sexual health and ensure you are equipped to practice safe sex. Speak to your doctor or nurse whenever you have concerns or questions.
- Practicing non-penetrative sex, such as mutual masturbation, cuddling, kissing and massage are very safe.
- Always use clean needles or syringes and other injecting equipment, never share such items.
- Never share tattooing equipment, even with a lover or close friend.
- If you are sexually active, you should have regular medical check ups.
- The contraceptive pill is very good at preventing pregnancy but it offers no protection against HIV.
Using a condom
When using a condom, it is important to ensure you use it correctly for it to offer proper protection. You should;
- Open the packet carefully so that you donâ€™t tear the condom.
- Pinch the tip of the condom before carefully rolling it down the entire shaft of the erect penis.
- Do not use spit, Vaseline, baby oil or other oil-based lubricants.
- Use water-based lubricants, such as KY or Wet Stuff. (Available in Pharmacies)
- Withdraw the penis before the erection is lost, so that the condom does not fall off. Hold the base of the condom to prevent spills.
- Store condoms in a cool, dry place and check the expiry date before using.
- Condoms should only be used once. A new one should be used each time you have sex.
It is your responsibility to inform current and past sexual partners if you have contracted HIV/AIDS.
It is your responsibility to practice safe sex.
It is your responsibility to get regular medical check ups and get tested.
I Want To Know More
You can find out more from the following places;
Northern Reproductive Health Clinic
â€˜Our Spotâ€™ ( Northern Hub Center)
Ratu Raobe Building,
P: 881 2525
Naviti Street Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic (Western Hub Centre)
P: 664 0243
Reproductive Health Clinic (Suva Hub)
P: 331 9144
Medical services Pacific,
Any Government Health Centre. You can locate your nearest centre here
Â HIV Testing and Counseling Site
|Our place (youth friendly services)||3319078|
|Reproductive health clinic (Suva)||3319144|
|Reproductive Health Clinic (Lautoka)||6640243 or 6660411|
|Reproductive Health Clinic (Labasa)||8812522|
|Wainikoro Health Centre||8832444|
Source: MOH Fiji.