By Sheela Sheth
World AIDS Day—1 December—is an opportunity to raise awareness
about the fatal disease and shed light on the impact it has on those who are diagnosed with it—both physically and socially. This year, the day has a theme of "Universal Access and Human Rights.”
HIV/AIDS in Jordan
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune system of the body, causing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) by damaging the immune system cells until they can no longer fight off infections that would normally be easy to prevent. HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person; contact with infected blood and sharing unsterilized injections that have been used by someone infected, The disease can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, labour and delivery or breastfeeding. According to Dr Bassam Hajawi, Director of the Primary Health Care Administration and the National AIDS Program at the Ministry of Health in Jordan, around 753 cases of HIV/AIDS have been recorded in Jordan between 1986 and 2010. "The Kingdom is considered to be a low prevalence country,” he explains, “where prevention efforts focus on sex workers, homosexuals and injecting drug users." In Jordan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) focuses on raising awareness about HIV/AIDS among young adults and reducing the stigma surrounding the disease. “Teenagers are actors of change and are role models for their friends; we have adolescents teach their peers on issues such as HIV/AIDS," says Jumana Haj Ahmad, UNICEF Adolescents Specialist.
The latest on HIV/AIDS
“A male patient can experience spontaneous, periodic shedding of HIV into his seminal fluid despite having consistently undetectable viral load levels in his blood,” warns Prameet Sheth, a researcher from the Department of Medical Sciences at the University of Toronto. Patients with HIV receive highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Effective HAART can reduce HIV levels in blood so far that it is below the limit of detection. Some patients whose blood shows no sign of HIV, however, had isolated shedding episodes of HIV into their semen. This recent finding demonstrates the risk of HIV transmission through unprotected sex even when the virus is undetected in the blood.
Who gets HIV?
When it was first discovered, HIV was referred to as GRID (gayrelated immune deficiency) or sometimes even as “gay cancer.” We now know, however, that HIV does not discriminate; everyone is at risk regardless of sexual preference, age, race, class, income or religion. Ziad is a young, married Jordanian doctor who became infected with HIV after accidentally pricking his finger with a needle while drawing blood from an HIV-infected patient. Although he received immediate treatment with antiretrovirals, he was diagnosed as HIV positive. Upon finding out he had contracted the disease, Ziad and his wife were, in their own words, “devastated”. Abdullah, a husband and father of five who comes from a middle-class family, was an active gofer, spending his days at work running up and down five flights of stairs doing errands. At the age of 45, he suddenly started experiencing bouts of extreme exhaustion, a persistent cough, unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite. He was hospitalized and is now being treated for tuberculosis, one of the main side effects of AIDS. He now spends his days in a hospital bed, emaciated and, according to those who know him, barely recognisable. “I did not know that my lifestyle could lead to this,” says Abdullah.
What you can expect in Jordan
The Jordanian Ministry of Health provides free, anonymous and confidential counselling and testing for anyone who suspects he or she has contracted HIV. Along with social support, treatment for HIV-related infections is covered by the public health insurance plan. Non-Jordanian spouses of Jordanian citizens are included in this coverage and have access to HIV treatment. Jordan has a policy of promoting HIVprevention among young people most at risk, both in and out of school. According to personnel at the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education has included HIV/AIDS education in the middle and secondary school curricula to raise awareness about the disease.
HIV becomes AIDS when your CD4 cell count (helper cells of the immune system that are attacked by HIV) falls below 200/mm3. HIV is not a gay man’s disease; 95% of HIV transmission occurs between heterosexual couples. The presence of sexually transmitted diseases increases the likelihood of HIV transmission during sexual contact. Condoms (both male and female) are the most effective at preventing HIV transmission. Women between the ages of 15 and 24 are more at risk of becoming infected with HIV than older women.