Stigma of Living With HIV and AIDS

Human health is very crucial for the proper functioning of any economy in the world. Consequently, every government tries as much as possible to secure the health of its citizens. In this regard, a lot of investments have been made in the health care sector to enhance research into proper methods of treating various diseases. However, not every disease has a cure in the world. HIV/AIDS is one such scenario where medics are still struggling to get a cure.

It should be noted that though other diseases do not have a cure, HIV/AIDS stands out because of the effects that it has on society. Moreover, patients of HIV/AIDS have received mixed treatment from society due to various misconceptions that have been associated with the condition leading to various social, ethical, and legal issues. It is, therefore, vital that the various issues on the problem of HIV/AIDS are addressed.

Before addressing any other issue, it would be of great importance to define what is meant by HIV/AIDS so that we could be reading from the same page regarding any reference made hereafter. Human immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system of a human being leading to a condition known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV attacks the CD4 helper lymphocyte cells which are part of the cells that defend the human body against infections (Pozgar, 2009).

This weakens the body’s immune system thus exposing the body to other infections. In this regard, a person who is infected with HIV/AIDS can easily get infected by other diseases. It is important to note that there have been very many theories explaining how HIV came into being. However, even though there has never been an agreement on this, it is quite crucial to point out that HIV/AIDS is just a medical condition, and it is not a result of witchcraft or anything close to that.

HIV is transmitted from one person to another when a person comes into contact with blood, semen, virginal fluids, breast milk, or any other body fluid of an infected person where the virus can thrive. One can come into contact with these fluids through very many instances the common one being having oral, anal, or virginal sex without using a condom. A person can also come into contact with the fluids through sharing sharp objects with an infected person (Dickson, 2001). HIV-positive women can also transmit the virus to their children while they are in the womb when they are breastfeeding them or during birth. Research has shown that people who are infected by other sexually transmitted diseases are highly likely to get infected.

HIV/AIDS has very many effects not only on the individual who is infected but also on the patient’s family and the society at large. Firstly, the idea that the disease has no cure is not pleasant news to many people. Consequently, most of the patients usually refuse to accept the fact that they have been infected with the disease. These people assume that it is something else and end up spreading the disease even more. On the same note, patients of the disease are usually avoided by many people in society. This makes them withdraw from social interactions and keep to themselves. Situations like this led to depression as well as trauma especially when the patient receives negative treatment (Zastrow, 2010).

Moreover, governments are also losing the workforce because people who are infected by the disease become unproductive at a given point in time. On the other hand, the disease is costly to governments because they have to give support to the patients, financially or otherwise. Specifically, the social services that have to be given to these people have increased meaning that governments have to invest a lot of money. This has not only increased public expenses but has also reduced the amount of money available for other development projects.

Similarly, management of the condition requires patients to eat a well-balanced diet and also take the necessary medication religiously throughout their lives. For a family that is not economically stable, this becomes a problem given that it requires a lot of money to achieve (Corey, Marianne & Callanan, 2010). As a result, the family is forced to cut down on other expenses, which might be very crucial, to get enough money to manage the disease.

Moreover, when patients get critical, they are sometimes compelled to resign from their workplaces and stay at home. Besides reducing family income, this increases the financial burden to the family as other members must provide for the patients. This gets worse when the patient happens to be the sole breadwinner of the family. In addition, the patients become a social burden when other family members have to stop their work to take care of the patients.

Without a diagnosis, it is difficult to tell when a person has been infected with HIV. This is the disease can take a very long period before it starts showing its signs and symptoms. Nevertheless, common symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, enlarged liver or spleen, muscle pain, and rashes on the abdomen, arms, legs, and the face (Bennett & Erin, 2001). The disease can also cause headaches, fever, sore throat, nausea as well as vomiting. In advanced stages, the disease causes persistent skin rashes, weight and appetite loss, lack of energy as well as chronic muscle and joint pain.

Despite a lot of efforts that have been directed towards research for a cure for AIDS, still there is no cure. However, some positive steps have been made and mother-to-child transmission can be avoided by using drugs administered to pregnant women. Other patients are given various drugs that are aimed at boosting their immune system so that the body may be able to fight against other diseases (Pozgar, 2009). On the same note, patients are usually given medication to prevent any opportunistic disease that may attack them. Usually, various antiretroviral drugs are administered to reduce the multiplication of the virus. Nonetheless, people must practice safe sex, avoid sharing of sharp objects and also ensure screening of blood before transmission to prevent the spread of the disease.

All over the world, there has been a lot of public awareness regarding HIV/AIDS to help in the elimination of the stigma that is attached to the disease. Unfortunately, stigmatization and prejudice are prevalent in our societies even today. This may vary from mere avoidance of people with AIDS to outright discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS. As a result, there have been very many social as well as ethical issues regarding HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is not only the non-medics who have a negative attitude towards people living with HIV/AIDS, but also the medical staff (Schoub, 1999).

Medical practitioners are sometimes placed in a precarious situation when it comes to dealing with HIV/AIDS patients. It is required that people should give informed consent before they are tested for any disease. However, in case somebody is in a bad condition and cannot give authority, it becomes tricky. While it is important to know a patient’s HIV status before treating him or her, medical practitioners are bound by their ethical requirement not to test a patient without his or her knowledge.

Moreover, it is unethical for medical practitioners to release patients’ medical information without the consent of the patient. Nevertheless, there comes a scenario when one discovers that he or she has been infected with HIV/AIDS but declines to reveal the same to his or her partner. This is tricky for the medical officials who have to choose between revealing the information to the partner to save him/her the agony of coming to know later and respecting the fact that patients have the final word regarding their medical information (Dickson, 2001).

On the other hand, there have been various legal issues associated with HIV/AIDS. To begin with, various laws have been implemented to regulate and also protect people living with HIV/AIDS. This includes the law restricting employers from discriminating against employees solely on the grounds of their HIV-positive status. The Supreme Court held in the case of Bragdon v Abbot that HIV satisfies all definitions of disability. Therefore, it allowed people living with HIV/AIDS to be included in the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (Baveja & Rewari, 2004). Moreover, in a move aimed at protecting people living with HIV against stigmatization, the government has restricted medical officials from releasing medical information of a patient without express consent from the patient.

Despite every person standing the same chance of getting infected with HIV, there are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of getting infected. The first group is composed of people who use drugs that require injections. These people like sharing the syringes as well as the needles they use which increases the rate of transmission among them. Secondly, we have homosexuals and lesbians. This group of people is highly stigmatized in society due to their sexual orientation.

As a result, they find it difficult to get tested or even reveal their health status given that they know what is in store for them. This increases the rate of transmission among people in this category. Moreover, women have also been placed in the group of people whose probability of getting infected is high. Nevertheless, it should be insisted that HIV is not selective, and any person can get infected (Lashley & Durham, 2010).

To encourage people to live positively with HIV/AIDS, every person has to be responsible. Continued stigma will only make the problem worse. People will not only fear declaring their status publicly, but they will also avoid getting tested and this will increase the prevalence of the disease. Consequently, people living with HIV/AIDS need to be treated with love and affection. It is at the point where one is diagnosed as being HIV positive that we should give him/her our support.

These people need to be counseled and get as much emotional support as possible. In extreme circumstances, authorities will have to put in place laws to restrict discrimination (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2007). Besides ensuring that HIV-positive people are not sacked from their jobs, this will ensure that Patients have the moral support to manage the disease and remain economically productive.

Furthermore, people who have been diagnosed with HIV need to be informed on how to manage their condition so that they can have a healthy relatively long life. Instead of the medical practitioners discriminating and even avoiding patients infected with HIV and AIDS, they should be guiding them on how to lead healthy lives. Medical officials should be given the mandate of educating patients on the ways of managing the disease. On the same note, it would be important also to educate HIV victims on their rights as enshrined in the law. This will enable them to know whenever there is a violation of their rights thus giving them the confidence to fight against stigma. In addition, this will make the patients know that they are a normal part of society and they deserve to live (Kartikeyan, 2007).

Similarly, it is important to note that medical practitioners should prioritize giving medication to people who are diagnosed with HIV. However, health personnel needs to understand the emotional situation of patients. It goes without saying that people who are being informed for the first time that they are positive are likely to get more disturbed, given that some are unprepared for such eventuality. Therefore, it would be important to provide the necessary emotional support to these patients before and after providing them with medication.

Additionally, since the probability of people living with HIV/AIDS contracting certain diseases is higher, they should be immunized against opportunistic diseases. The diseases include hepatitis B, hepatitis A, and swine flu among others. Moreover, people living with HIV/AIDS need their records to be kept confidential and the medical personnel who are dealing with them should assure the patients on this matter (Bennett & Erin, 2001). Lastly, it is the responsibility of the medical practitioners to advise people living with HIV/AIDS regarding all issues related to the disease, non-critically and without showing any sign of prejudice.

HIV/AIDS is a reality that cannot be assumed given the effects the disease brings. Spillover effects of the disease are not only felt by the family of the infected, but also by the society and the economy as a whole. Children have been left, orphans. Women and men have lost their partners. Breadwinners of families have been turned into dependents with no one to provide for their families. Our country has lost high skilled workforce who would have increased the output of the economy. On the other hand, the disease carries with it a lot of stigma within our society. Patients are avoided and even discriminated against leading to depression and, in some cases, suicide.

This is a social problem that requires society to work as a group to fight against it. Yes, the disease has no cure, and yes, it is being transmitted at very high rates. But we cannot fight against it by stigmatizing and discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS. We can only manage the disease if we learn to live positively with the disease or with those infected by it and learn how to prevent its transmission.

References

Baveja, U. K. & Rewari, B. B. (2004). Diagnosis and Management of HIV/AIDS: A Clinician’s Perspective. New Delhi: BI Publications.

Bennett, R. & Erin, C. A. (2001). HIV and AIDS: Texting, Screening, and Confidentiality. Oxford: Oxford Press.

Corey, G., Marianne S. & Callanan P. (2010). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions. Stanford: Cengage Learning.

Dickson, D. T. (2001). HIV, AIDS, and the Law: Legal Issues for Social Work Practice and Policy. Piscataway: Transaction Publishers.

Kartikeyan, S. (2007). HIV and AIDS: Basic Elements and Priorities. New York: Springer.

Lashley, F. R. & Durham, J. D. (2010). The Person with HIV/AIDS: Nursing Perspectives. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Pozgar, G. (2009). Legal and Ethical Issues for Health Professionals. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Schoub, B. D. (1999). AIDS and HIV in Perspective: A Guide to Understanding the Virus and its Consequences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zastrow, C. (2010). The Practice of Social: A Comprehensive Worktext. Stanford: Cengage Learning.

Zastrow, C. & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2007). Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. Stanford: Cengage Learning.