By Maryam Qarehgozlou

An endeavor to overcome stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS

December 4, 2017

TEHRAN — Removing the stigma attached to the HIV/AIDS is what the society must pursue in order to break barriers to successful HIV prevention, care, and treatment.

HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV and AIDS. As per a study by UNAIDS in 2015 in 35% of countries with available data, over 50% of people report having discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV.

“Ignorance and misconceptions about HIV and its related felids frequently hamper debate and discussion of this subject and thus promote misinformation and vulnerability in the country,” Fardad Doroudi, UNAIDS country director in Iran said on Sunday.

“HIV prevention begins with preventing misconceptions and misbeliefs that have clear outcomes in the form of stigma and discrimination,” Doroudi told a press conference held on the occasion of the World AIDS Day, December 1. 

“Getting to Zero” 

Doroudi also explained that art can change the attitudes of its audience and engage their creativity.

Ignorance and misconceptions about HIV and its related felids frequently hamper debate and discussion of this subject and thus promote misinformation and vulnerability in the country

“Art can in time shatter the course of misconception, sweep away common misjudgment and promote a more complete understanding of this illness within society. It can also help untangle the mass of interconnected challenges that are low awareness, stigma and discrimination, denial and other issues related to this illness,” he added. 

To this end, Shahriar Paarsse, Iranian pop singer and HIV activist, will release an album “getting to zero” through collaborative efforts of governmental and non-governmental sectors.

As Paarsse himself said the album’s name “getting to zero” stands for the main goals the National Aids Control Program, namely zero new infections, zero AIDS related deaths and zero discrimination.

“Some songs in the album narrate the story of HIV patients and some cherish hope,” he said.

#myrighttohealth 

This year’s World AIDS Day campaign will focus on the right to health. 

Regarding the World AIDS Day campaign focus, the full realization of the right to health will be achieved by promoting awareness, prevention, early diagnosis, accessing effective, quality and affordable medicines, and supporting the HIV patients, Homeira Fallahi, a senior advisor to the AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases department of the Health Ministry said.  

Raising awareness is the key component in the aforementioned campaign, Fallahi said, stating, finding effective and right tools to increase awareness in the society is highly important. 

“Right now brochures and pamphlets might not be as effective as they used to be, art can be a more powerful tool to enhance awareness,” she added.

HIV/STI surveillance research center 

Fallahi also told the Tehran Times that the Iran-based website hiv-sti.ir is a set of web pages dedicated to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STI) offering information about infections passed from one person to another person through unprotected sexual contacts with animations and short films.

The website also provide information about 157 centers nationwide which will conduct confidential and free of charge HIV test and counselling services to the public, Fallahi highlighted. 

Moreover, for the first time in the Eastern Mediterranean region some 7 juvenile counselling centers offering HIV counselling services to the teenagers are now running in the provinces of Tehran, Khuzestan, Fars, Alborz, Lorestan and Kermanshah, she noted. 

As recommended by the World Health Organization those diagnosed with the virus must soon enter treatment, he said, suggesting, “We need to take a huge leap forward to provide all HIV patients with treatment.”

90–90–90: Ambitious treatment target 

By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. By 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. This is an ambitious target set by UNAIDS to end AIDS epidemic. 

Iran is among the 34 countries who joined “Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030”, a fast-track strategy of the United Nations to halt spread of the disease by 2030, and committed to “Target 90-90-90” which aims at HIV treatment and prevention for 2020, Doroudi said. 

“Over the past two years we have experienced an upswing in the number of people receiving HIV/AIDS treatment,” Doroudi told the Tehran Times. “More than 10,000 people are now undergoing treatment in Iran.”

The UNAIDS country director went on to say that with respect to the number of people who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Iran which amounts to almost 25,000 to 26,000 less than 50 percent of the patients are now getting treatment. 

As recommended by the World Health Organization those diagnosed with the virus must soon enter treatment, he said, suggesting, “We need to take a huge leap forward to provide all HIV patients with treatment.”

At the same time those 30,000 to 4,000 people with HIV who don’t know their status need to be diagnosed in no time, he underlined.

So at least in order to realize the first two targets all responsible organizations- and nut just Ministry of Health- must participate in diagnosing those who don't know they are infected, he added.

Inquired about HIV mandatory testing Doroudi said that mandatory testing has serious disadvantages and that the only HIV screening program which is already underway in Iran is HIV testing in pregnancy.

He further explained that doctors strongly recommend testing for HIV in every pregnancy as the infections could hurt the baby if it is not prevented and could endanger the health of the baby. 

However, he said, “we highly recommended to people to voluntarily take HIV test to ensure both their health and others.” 

Millions suffer from HIV/AIDS

According to UNAIDS there were approximately 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2016. Of these, 2.1 million were children (age under 15 years old).

1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016, bringing the total number of people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic (1981) to 35.0 million.

An estimated 1.8 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2016 – about 5,000 new infections per day.  This includes 160,000 children (age under 15 years). Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Currently only 60% of people with HIV know their status. The remaining 40% (over 14 million people) still need to access HIV testing services. 

As of July 2017, 20.9 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally, up from 15.8 million in June 2015, 7.5 million in 2010, and less than one million in 2000.

MQ/MG

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