Living with hiv

India has the third-largest HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world with around 2.1 million people
living with the virus. Six districts in Maharashtra and the northern borders of Karnataka
in India are the places where the rate of HIV infection is the highest in the country.

key affected population

sex workers who
get it from clients

men who indulge
in sex with them

wives who have
it passed on to

Transferred to Children by
Infected Parents

The key affected population in the country includes the sex workers and the men who indulge in sex with them and pass it on to their wives, resulting in HIV positive children and parents who do not realize their HIV status until they go for a pregnancy check-up.

In India, an estimate of 1,45,000 children below the age of 15 years are affected by HIV/AIDS; and this number increases by 20,000 every year. Children account for 7% of the new HIV infections in the country.

Efforts are laboriously being made to reach out to these high-risk groups by the National AIDS Control Programme, and several NGOs. Compared to neighbouring countries, new HIV infections in India have reduced by half since 2001.

What it is to Live with HIV

HIV positive people, generally, live a similar life as anyone of us. However, they need to take additional steps to stay healthy and avoid transmitting the virus to others. One thing that sets them apart is that they have to monitor their health regularly and take medication scrupulously.

In this article, we will discuss the crucial challenges that HIV positive people have to face.

lifestyle changes

Healthy and
balanced diet

Regular
exercise

Diligent with health
and medication

Be aware of
mental health

things to avoid

Alcoholic
beverages

Smoking and
tobacco products

Recreational
drug abuse

Drinking water from
unknown sources

Unhygienic
food

Unprotected
Sex

Social Interaction

HIV positive people are not obligated to disclose their status to friends, employers, or colleagues, but doing so can have emotional and practical advantages, esp. while taking a sick leave from work. On the contrary, in the case of sexual intimacy, they are legally obligated to disclose their HIV status to their partner for their own legal protection.

health and medicine

Once infected with HIV, regularly attending medical check-ups and taking medications systematically become vital to the lifestyle. The treatment works best when the affected is proactively involved in their own health care.

In recent years, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) for HIV/AIDS has rapidly scaled up. The treatment helps them stay in good health, and transmission of the virus to others is also prevented. The medicine is to be taken as recommended by the doctor, and the treatment and its effectiveness needs to be regularly monitored.

However, due to reasons like lack of awareness, nonavailability of care, sickness, financial crisis, distance, and lack of transport, cited by individuals, the antiretroviral therapy doesn’t give the desired results. This non-adherence is associated with side effects, illiteracy, excess medication, and/or depression. Data from studies conducted in the Indian paediatric population shows that there is a low adherence rate among the infected, that ranges range from 36.2% to 63%. Yet, a lesser-known fact is that disclosing the HIV status to the infected kids makes them compliant to ART and boosts their willingness to take charge of their own health.

Amongst women, there is a fear of stigmatization and social ostracism that interfere with counselling and testing. Most parents and caregivers do not disclose their child's HIV status for similar reasons that include mental trauma.

High Susceptibility to Infections and Cancers

If the medicines aren't taken regularly, then those living with HIV are at a higher risk of developing various Opportunistic Infections (OIs) and cancer.

Opportunistic Infections (OIs) affect people with weak immune systems like the HIV infected. Weak immunity makes it harder for the body to fight infections, especially HIV related OIs.

HIV related OIs include pneumonia, Salmonella infection, candidiasis (thrush), toxoplasmosis, tuberculosis (TB), and cancer. Since HIV medicines are widely available now in India, fewer people with HIV are getting OIs.

stigma and mental health

Even with the progress we have made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, there is still stigma and prejudice surrounding those affected by it. The discrimination stems from lack of awareness or education, and myths around the disease.

Even so, according to the HIV/AIDS Prevention Act, “an act of the Parliament of India that provides for controlling and preventing of HIV/AIDS and securing the rights of individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS,” it is illegal to discriminate against HIV/AIDS affected people. This law came into effect on 10th Sept 2018, under which any HIV/AIDS affected person can file a case against discrimination.

Defining Mental Health

Mental health encompasses a person’s overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

A person’s thought process, feelings, and actions are all affected by their mental health. Good mental health is the key to making healthy decisions, achieving personal goals, developing healthy relationships, and coping with stress.

Poor mental health cannot be equated with mental illness. Examples of mental illness are PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia. It is possible that a person in poor mental health may not be mentally ill.

HIV/AIDS increases the Risk of Mental Health Issues

According to a mental health study in India, 7.5% individuals are affected by mental health issues. People living with HIV are at a higher risk of developing mood, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. For example, a person living with HIV is twice as likely to suffer from depression than a person who doesn't have HIV.

Additionally, the HIV virus enters and resides in the brain causing OIs and neuropsychological disorders, such as mild cognitive changes or more severe cognitive conditions, such as dementia.

In spite of everything, it is important to know that mental health is treatable and can be easily taken care of with the help of professionals.

Causes of Mental Health Problems

A sudden life-change like the death of a loved one,
or the trauma of losing a job.

Physical, emotional,
or mental abuse/trauma

Loss of social support,
resulting in isolation

Biological factors such as
inheriting defective genes

Mental health issues
that run in the family

The stress of suffering
from HIV/AIDS

HIV infection and related OIs that affect the brain
and nervous system

Visible physical changes
due to HIV/AIDS

Side effects caused
by HIV medication

Facing stigma and discrimination
against HIV/AIDS

Warning signs of a mental health problem

Changes in how a
person feels or acts

Loss of interest in activities
that were previously enjoyable

Persistent sadness
or feeling empty

Feeling anxiety
or stress

Suicidal thoughts

What should one do when faced with warning signs

The problems may be aggravated due to the HIV medication, which is why talking to the healthcare provider and a psychiatrist at the same time, can work wonders. Other steps one can take to prevent mental health issues are:

Join a
support group

Seek professional
help

Talk to
a confidant

Opt for Yoga
and Meditation

Sleep enough, eat well,
and exercise regularly

Solutions to curing mental health problems are abundant, but, providing the human touch that an HIV/AIDS infected person needs is not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s where CoK comes in.

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