Battle goes on

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aidsSTOP HIV/Aids in its tracks now – or count the cost later on, was the message sent by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates during the 21st International Aids Conference in Durban this week.
Gates’s focus was specifically on young people, particularly girls between the ages of 15 and 24, who are most at risk of getting HIV in South Africa.
He has warned that due to the growing youth population, the number of HIV infections could continue to increase, despite efforts to stem the pandemic. While Gates has been approving of South Africa’s plans to roll out the HIV-preventative therapy (the Truvada pill) to HIV-negative sex workers and of circumcisions as preventative measures, he has warned that treatment and prevention goals need to be ambitious.
The reality is that South Africa is believed to have one of the highest – if not the highest – infection rate in the world with one in 10 South Africans believed to be living with HIV.
So, where are we failing? Putting our heads in the sand will not make the problem go away. Instead, as Gates has indicated, it is destined to get worse.
Good news this week was that a vaccine against HIV will be trialed in South Africa later this year.
The vaccine will be part of prevention efforts but will have to be coupled with more intensified focus on education. Are we teaching our children the realities of the ravages of HIV/Aids and that irresponsible sexual behaviour can and inevitably will lead to tragedy? Is the behaviour of older persons promoting a responsible lifestyle for the young and are we emphasising the need for positive role models instead of those who glamorise a life of promiscuity, seemingly with no ill effects?
French scientist Francoise Barre-Sinnousi, the woman who co-discovered HIV in 1983, speaking at the conference, indicated that a cure would be an “almost impossible mission”.
Instead, she has indicated that various treatment options, and a combination thereof, would probably be used to fight the disease in the future.
The message from the conference has been clear. There is no cure at present and, it seems, it’s highly unlikely there will ever be one.
There is progress in terms of preventative measures in the form of a vaccine and improved treatment options.
We can not, however, discount the increased need to raise awareness and to educate people about the disease, the transmission thereof and the need to make responsible sexual behaviour part of a healthy lifestyle.
We can not leave the fight against HIV/Aids to medical professionals. As ordinary people we must take up the responsibility to play our part in curbing the infection rate – or we face an even worse scenario than the ravages of Aids in the past, in the future.

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