This years’ World AIDS Day marks an important milestone in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The recent pronouncements by the Pope of the Catholic Church have signalled an important milestone towards embracing universal condom use for HIV prevention.
This is especially so because there is tremendous influence of religion at the community level. Religious beliefs not only influence the choices an individual makes but also have an impact on how she or he relates with the wider community.
To an individual who is both at risk of HIV infection and pregnancy, condoms provide an avenue to reduce the opportunistic infection and deaths related to HIV as well as chances of getting pregnant and transmitting the HIV virus to a child if HIV treatment is not accessed. On the other hand, to an individual who is already infected, condoms provide an important tool in reducing chances of onward transmission of HIV to another person or even getting super-infected with a different strain of the HIV virus.
Consequently, individuals and communities need to be empowered to gain more autonomy and self-determination in fertility and HIV risk-reduction. The first step towards this is providing communities with accurate health education and information. Condoms have been proven to be effective in reducing HIV infection rates if used correctly and consistently.
Indeed, HIV prevention remains one of the most fundamental avenues of halting the global HIV and AIDS epidemic. The recent findings the iPrex study on pre-exposure prophylaxis with antiretroviral drugs for HIV prevention have added on a growing body of evidence in support of combination prevention for HIV, along with condom use, reduction of concurrent sexual partners, male circumcision, harm reduction, ongoing microbicide research, vaccine trials and others.
As a result of the global HIV prevention, treatment, and care efforts, the 2010 UNAIDS report on the global HIV epidemic shows that there has been progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Small, gradual and consistent gains in HIV incidence are being witnessed in most regions in the world today. The report has also highlighted the increasing uptake and use of condoms in a number of countries. It is now more than ever necessary to support this momentum in global HIV response lest we lose all gains made so far. There is need to strengthen the HIV and AIDS response for vulnerable women and children, to support legal reform in countries where laws present a barrier to HIV treatment, care and support, promote increased use of HIV combination prevention including condoms and tackle stigma and discrimination.
Stigma hampers the HIV response
Discrimination continues to fuel the HIV and AIDS epidemic by hampering HIV prevention and care, sustaining denial about HIV and AIDS, reinforcing prejudice against those living with HIV and marginalising those who are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection such as sex workers and injecting drug users.
The onus is on all of us to ensure that communities all over the world do not respond to respond to HIV and AIDS with ignorance, fear, denial, prejudice or intolerance. Hopefully, the Pope’s comments will begin make it easier for those most at risk of HIV infection to use condoms to prevent HIV and will accelerate the acceptance of condom use by other religious communities globally. We must unite against HIV and AIDS this world AIDS Day 2010 and beyond.
What’s Preventing Prevention? Find out more about the Alliance’s prevention campaign to know how you can take action against HIV AIDS.