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Condoms, Needles, And AIDS

Question: How is the HIV virus that causes AIDS transmitted? It has to travel from an infected blood stream into another blood stream. What are the two most common ways that this occurs? Unprotected sexual intercourse and the sharing of needles between intravenous drug users are still the most common means of the disease being transmitted.

What, than, is the answer to the spread of HIV and AIDS? Well there are two, either abstinence, which given this world is an unrealistic expectation, or educating people on the use of condoms and not re-using or sharing needles when injecting drugs. Obviously in the case of the intravenous drug user you'd wish for abstinence, as there are so many other health risks involved with shooting up. But if we can't get them to stop, we can at least prevent them spreading disease and putting a strain on health care systems.

To some people what I've just said in the above paragraph is the proverbial red flag in front of a bull. Some people, from the depths of their Christian or Islamic compassionate hearts, will say things like their sinners and criminals so whatever happens to them is just a case of reaping what you sow. Well unfortunately the more people who have the disease the more likely the chances of it continuing to spread to the so-called innocent victims.

It just takes one pint of blood getting past a screening process and making it out into circulation for a person receiving a blood transfusion to contract the virus. It only takes one police officer or paramedic getting blood in an open cut accidentally for there to be a chance of the virus being spread. Then there are the babies of the infected mothers being born with the virus because their mother's hadn't know to use a condom or not to use the needle that six other people had already used.

By the way, there is no such thing as an innocent or guilty victim of a disease. A virus doesn't sit in judgement upon the people it infects, its just looking for a new place to live and grow like the rest of us. The only things that judge people are people. If anybody is guilty in this mess it's those who, for whatever reasons, would rather see people die then, heaven forbid, teach them how to use a condom or give them clean needles.

Aside from those folks who knowingly infect others, (including the ones who continued to sell blood products which they knew could be tainted), the only guilty parties involved in the spread of the HIV virus are those refusing to allow anything but abstinence be described as a preventative. Anyone who seriously believes that is an effective policy for the population at large is either woefully naïve or dangerously narrow minded.

I have nothing against abstinence, but that's a personal choice made by individuals. I'm probably more abstinent than most of you out there advocating it, as I haven't had a drink in twelve years, or anything else for that matter. But that was my decision, not something somebody forced on me, nor one where there was another alternative. If non-alcoholic beer really were alcohol free (its not) I would drink it because that would be a safe alternative to abstinence.

It's one thing to make a personal choice on how you want to live your life, and another thing altogether to try and impose that on other people. It's ironic that so many of the people who advocate imposing their point of view on others, are the same ones who scream bloody murder about governments interfering with their rights as individuals. They won't accept a government's legal authority to enforce laws, but have no problem interfering in the way others lead their lives by claiming moral authority.

The issue of what can or cannot be taught or offered as means of preventing the spread of HIV and the AIDS virus has been a thorn in the side of the international aid community for years now. On one hand there are the Muslim countries unwilling to cede rights to women to allow them access to information on prevention. On the other there is the current U.S. administration's policy of linking funding with stipulations against the advocacy of condom use.

While some European nations recognize the necessity of needle exchanges as a means of controlling the spread of disease among intravenous drug users, other countries are reluctant to endorse any plans that suggest those programmes. That these and other issues are still prevalent today is being made clear at the United Nations' High-Level Meeting on AIDS. The purpose of the meeting is to try and reach an agreement on a global strategy for fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS from now until 2010.

In light of the reports recently released by the United Nations (U.N.) AIDS office that 40 million people are living with the disease and 25 million have died from it; that only 9% of pregnant woman in poor countries are receiving care to help prevent mother to child transmission when the goal had been 80% by now you'd think there would be a more concentrated effort to find a solution.

The one simple goal of this meeting was to try and set 2010 as a deadline for ensuring that anybody anywhere who wanted treatment for AIDS would be able to obtain it. But civil groups fear that they'll be lucky to escape these meetings without losing any of the gains that were made in 2001 on prevention, let along treatment. All the old stumbling blocks have surfaced again; countries refusing to sign off on anything mentioning gays, prostitutes, intravenous drug use, and condoms.

In an effort to guide people away from old arguments UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson put forward a proposal mentioning everything by specific name and also calls for money to ensure the availability of the treatment. It is estimated that nearly $25 billion will be needed in 2010 to fight the disease.

While there is of course a great hue and cry over amounts of money involved, it must be realized it's been the continual inaction on the part of too many countries that has ensured the crisis level we are now at. There has been far too much self-righteous condemnation and far too little compassion from far too many people. Every year that heads remain buried in the sand is another year the numbers increase among the dead and infected.

There may come a time when it's all a matter of too little too late, hopefully we haven't reached that stage yet. If the countries involved with this meeting can at least agree that any and all methods are important, and not to hinder ones they may not personally agree with, it will be a good start. Until that sort of agreement happens hope for a resolution to the disaster in Africa gets fainter and fainter.

The longer we wait the higher the costs rise, both in lives and money. Isn't it about time that we grew up enough to be able to realize that our way is not the only way? It's a matter of life and death.

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