HIV/AIDS is by far one of the most devastating global epidemics that has baffled clinicians and researchers worldwide. Strides to mitigate the catastrophic effects that troubled those living with HIV in the 20th century are apparent. They stem from the meticulous research into understanding the virus to ongoing trials to find an HIV vaccine.
Various drugs, termed antiretroviral therapies, have proved essential in reducing the burden of the disease and its complications. Fewer people die of AIDS-related illnesses now than in the 1980s. Nonetheless, continued rhetoric about living with HIV and efforts to mitigate its spread must suffice if we envision a 95-95-95 strategy by 2030.
For a disease that has afflicted almost every household in Africa, it becomes prudent that clinicians continue to be at the forefront through educating the masses about the prevention measures that are in place to halt HIV spread. Today, we highlight the roles of clinicians in mitigating disease spread.
According to UNAIDS, by 2020, about 37.7 million people were living with HIV globally. 1.5 million acquired the infection, and 680,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses. 27.5 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy. Since the start of the epidemic, 79.3 million people have acquired HIV, and 36.3 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses. It is noteworthy that two-thirds of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus is still a substantial burden in sub-Saharan Africa. It is, therefore, imperative that we highlight key roles clinicians should put forth to mitigate the spread of the disease that has slowly become inhouse.
First, all clinicians should become comfortable talking about sex and sexuality – making it a habit to request HIV tests. Unprotected, unsafe sex with a person living with HIV remains the mainstay of disease spread. If a young clinician isn’t comfortable about the topic, they should get help from senior colleagues such that we don’t miss opportunities.
Encourage HIV testing and early diagnosis.
Through the sex and sexuality talk, endeavour to avoid infringement on the patients’ rights. It is the clinician’s role to assert a few facts about the spread of the disease. A patient should know that the risk of acquiring HIV is 35 times higher if they inject drugs: 34 times higher for transgender women: 26 times higher for sex workers, and 25 times higher among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Do not withhold this information. Preventing HIV depends on clinicians advocating and promoting lifelong safer sex through research-proven means. It probably saves more souls if you advocate for abstinence among unmarried individuals: faithfulness among the married couples. They should get off the sexual network.
Second, warn everyone about the catastrophe that will arise from sexual tourism or promiscuity. Explain the dangers of alcohol in undermining safe sex messages. Teach the public the skills of sexual negotiation. It is grievous to be ignorant about religion when talking to people about lifestyle practices.
Ensure that patients with sexually transmitted infections (STI) get proper care through affluent STI clinics. Patients should know that control of other STIs reduces the incidence of HIV. As a clinician, you should not belittle a patient because they contracted gonorrhoea. Your work is to successfully treat it and educate the patient on how to prevent it.
Encourage HIV testing and early diagnosis. Routine testing will identify the newly infected persons and let them start ART to maintain a robust immune system. Patients with tuberculosis, chronic diarrhoea, meningitis, weight loss, lymphoma, or extensive fungal infections, should have their HIV status known.
Lastly, learn to promote human rights within your capacity. However, you are not a religious cleric nor a judge. Do your work as a clinician and leave the rest to the parties concerned. Different people hold different beliefs: respect them.
In a nutshell, it is everyone’s responsibility to mitigate the spread of HIV/AIDS – a disease that has crippled the various economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Several steps have proven beneficial in curbing the spread of HIV – safe sex practices, pre-and post-exposure prophylaxis, abstinence, and faithfulness. An HIV-free generation starts with you.