• Stephanie Vonwiller

What you didn't know about the HIV/AIDS virus

At a short glance

The virus was first found in 1981 in a clinic in California and New York. It was later discovered that the virus had already infected people in the 1928s.

The virus itself is called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). It causes the incurable/fatal disease AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

HIV cannot survive in the air. If the virus enters the body, the body's own defense system is attacked. As a result, the body is no longer able to fight against the otherwise harmless germs or infections, such as flu. The consequences are severe infections, even death. India has the largest number of HIV infected people in the world. About 90% do not know they are infected.

In Africa, too, 29.4 million people are HIV positive, 58% of them women. Asia comes right behind in the tragic statistics.

The virus can only be transmitted through three liquids:

- Blood

- Breast Milk

- Sexual fluids

Mucus, saliva, tears etc. do not transmit a virus.

Who and why does someone fall ill with HIV/AIDS?

Girls between the ages of twelve and nineteen are most likely to contract AIDS. The reason for this is poverty. In the already resource-poor countries, they are not sufficiently informed about HIV/AIDS. Approximately 1/3 of the people are illiterate, girls more than boys, who generally also have much less chance of getting an education beyond primary school. So when we talk about HIV/AIDS, we are talking more and more about women. The main factor for women to become infected is being married (Eastern and Southern Africa). Cultural norms allow men to have several sexual partners outside of marriage, which greatly accelerates the spread. There is a similar trend in Asia. The infections of married women are rising steeply. The United Nations estimates that the global spread of AIDS among women is twice as high as among men.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is as high as 70.8% of infected young people–male and female, 58% of them women (2010).

The following causes are probably responsible for the wide spread of AIDS in the states of Southern Africa (Wikipedia):

- Late prevention campaigns: While in Europe and North America the end-time mood was spread by the mass media shortly after the discovery of the HIV, and large parts of the population were thus informed about the means of transmission and prevention, AIDS remained a taboo subject in many parts of Africa, giving the disease almost 20 years to spread unhindered.

- Reasons of cost: The population of Southern Africa is among the poorest in the world. If condoms and HIV tests are not made available to those affected at very low cost, these means will not be widely used.

- Sexual and physical violence against women is one possible reason why, unlike in Europe and North America, more women than men are infected (57% of HIV-infected adults are women[10]), but does not fully explain this phenomenon. In Tanzania, a study found that young women who had experienced violence from their partner were ten times more likely to be infected with HIV than women who had not experienced violence.

- In many areas there is not much interest among those affected in knowing their own HIV status and thus being able to protect others. A positive test result is tantamount to a death sentence in many areas of Africa, as there are no treatment options available.

- Strong tabooing of AIDS and discrimination and exclusion of AIDS sufferers, which greatly reduces the willingness to have an HIV test

- Cultural causes: Polygamy and the immediate marriage of widows by family members of the deceased are also favorable factors.

- Overlapping sexual networks: Many people have parallel intimate partnerships through which the virus can spread more quickly than in monogamous partnerships.

Whereas in western countries, e.g. Germany, 76.2% of men who have had sex with men are affected (2018). It is estimated that about 16% know nothing about their infection. In Switzerland, 50% of men who have had sex with men are infected with HIV/AIDS. In heterosexual intercourse, 39.1% were still infected. Again, it is interesting to note that married women here are also disproportionately infected in a stable partnership.

In total, about 33 million people live with HIV/AIDS worldwide. About 2.7 million new infections are recorded every year.

Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa said, "…the problem is that the phenomenon of women’s acute vulnerability did not happen overnight. It grew relentlessly over the twenty years of the pandemic. What should shock us all, what should stop us in our tracks, is how long it took to focus the world on what was happening. Why have we allowed a continuing pattern of sexual carnage among young women so grave as to lose an entire generation of women and girls? The reason we have observed this wanton attack on women is because it’s women. It amounts to the ultimate vindication of the feminist analysis. When the rights of women are involved, the world goes into reverse."

"Even though the pandemic affects all ages, HIV/AIDS is especially urgent for adolescents, and especially girls (UNICEF)." The gender and equality index can also be used as a benchmark. Countries that have a high number of HIV/AIDS infections also have a high inequality index and vice (Dr. Gene Richardson).

HIV/AIDS tragically illustrates the relationship between health/illness and human rights. Young, poor women in developing countries are systematically deprived of control over their bodies and thus their lives. There are now centers that offer education for young girls, which is readily accepted. Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General, said 2002 in China, “Young people are the key in the fight against AIDS. By giving them the support they need, we can empower them to protect themselves against the virus. By giving them honest and straightforward information, we can break the circle of silence across all society. By creating effective campaigns for education and prevention, we can turn young people’s enthusiasm, drive, and dreams for the future into powerful tools for attacking the epidemic."

How structural violence spreads HIV/AIDS

The Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung formulated such a theory in a special way from 1971. Examples of structural violence in the sense of Johan Galtung are e.g. age discrimination, nationalism, racism and sexism. It covers all forms of discrimination, which are unequally distributed between the first and third world. This ranges from education, income and life expectancy to environmental issues. Structural violence is therefore not the act of one or a few individuals, but is set up by structures and societies (Structural violence).

According to Dr. Gene Richardson, dependence on medical technology blocks the introduction of social interventions relevant to the prevention or treatment of HIV/AIDS. This includes reducing or eliminating gender inequality. But through the advancement of medicine, people rely on drugs etc. and everything else, like the elimination of inequality remains high. This means, however, that young girls/women continue to be infected, from generation to generation - a cycle that cannot be interrupted in this way. It can therefore be stated that gender inequality is the driving force.

Can social organizations be effective in prevention and treatment?

TeachAIDS, for example, is an international organization that uses cartoon technology to reach a wide audience, especially in India and Africa. The films provide effective information about HIV/AIDS. Young people in particular are easily reached through these films, and they do not need an intermediary, but speak for themselves. This ensures a fast and far-reaching distribution.

Another example is Natasha Martin, the founder of the Grass Roots Alliance for Community Education, or G.R.A.C.E. for short, works primarily with children in Kenya who have been orphaned by the virus. But the organization does not work alone, but in cooperation with CBOs, NGOs and FBOs on the ground.

Your work includes:

- Integrated training for healthcare workers

- Technical and financial assistance

- Support for the education of orphans

- Expand youth education network

- Develop information networks

- Run a Twinning program

- Maintenance of a Community resource and research center

It only takes five "more" to contain the virus

- More health education

- More priority

- More medication

- More money in science for vaccination

- More local non-government organizations

Overall, the focus in future must be placed more strongly on prevention and equality.