On World AIDS Day, people worldwide gather to raise awareness, fight the virus, show support to the millions of patients suffering this sickness, and commemorate those who no longer are with us.
Oftentimes the terms HIV and AIDS are confused or even thought to be the same thing, but in fact they are not. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, and AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. To understand better the terms, HIV is a virus, while AIDS is a condition that can be developed in people with HIV, especially if left untreated. In order to be diagnosed with AIDS, a person has to already have been diagnosed with HIV.
HIV has 3 different stages that include:
- Stage 1: acute stage, the first few weeks after transmission
- Stage 2: clinical latency, or chronic stage
- Stage 3: AIDS
HIV is transmitted through acts of unprotected vaginal or anal sex, blood transfusions or from mother to child through pregnancy, birth or breast milk. Once infection has occurred, the virus destroys a specific type of blood cell, the CD4+ T cells, which are crucial for immunity and fighting diseases. As the infection progresses and CD4+ T cell counts decrease, it can then be diagnosed as AIDS.
It is estimated that today there are 36.7 million people with the virus globally. Since 1984, 35 million lives have been lost around the world due to AIDS-related illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated an average of 1.1 million people have HIV in the United States, and about 14% of those do not know they are infected, and just over half are virally suppressed.
Some populations have a higher risk of suffering from HIV or AIDS, for example, migrant and seasonal farmworkers. There are many factors that put this population at a higher risk, such as limited access to health care, poverty, legal status, constant migration, language barriers, low literacy rates, and the difficulties of an often isolated and highly-mobile lifestyle. All of these conspire to impede migrants’ access to HIV-prevention information and services.
Unfortunately, there is not much data about HIV/AIDS cases among the farmworker community. A report conducted by Migrant Clinicians Network and Farmworker Justice revealed the following:
At present, the seroprevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in farmworker communities is unknown. The vast majority of the epidemiological data on HIV incidence among farmworkers is based on small, local studies. A 1992 study of 310 farmworkers in Immokalee, FL, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found an HIV positive prevalence rate of 5%, almost 10 times that of the national rate of 0.6% at the time. A few other small studies have reported rates ranging from 0.47% to 13%.
For years, HIV/AIDS has had a very bad stigma. People tend to push away those suffering from this sickness. However, is time to understand what it is and treat everyone equally. It is important to understand that if a person with HIV is being treated and has a persistently undetectable viral load, it’s impossible to transmit the virus to another person. Stop the prejudice and the myths, and acquaint yourself with the truth. It is time to love and care for everyone suffering from HIV/AIDS.
AFOP Health & Safety Programs encourage everyone to get tested and to incorporate safer sex practices. It’s better to know where you stand and get treated if needed, than to be spreading the virus unawares.