For the past 28 years, the 1st of December has been commemorated as World AIDS Day, highlighting the plight of the pandemic and also celebrating the momentous strides made in combating the virus. On its 29th anniversary, under the theme, “The Right to Health”, the day’s focus will be on raising awareness and educating people on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome(HIV/AIDS).
In a country where over seven million people (12,6% of the population) are living with HIV, there have been calls to categorise the epidemic as a disability. Disability expert at Progression, Justene Smith, argues the pandemic can lead to disabilities.
“There are situations where HIV/AIDS can prevent an individual from performing the inherent requirements of their job and can have a negative impact on their performance. In such cases, HIV/AIDS could be classified as a disability or a progressive disability, to be specific,” Smith says.
Because HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system, this can cause, among other things, the degeneration of bone tissue and cartilage, resulting in chronic osteoarthritis, which itself can be classified as a disability, Smith explains.
“This is most likely to occur before an individual who is HIV/AIDS positive has started their treatment or does not take their medication at all,” clarifies Smith.
But Smith admits the use of antiretrovirals (ARV’s) can sometimes also ensure that persons who are HIV positive lead a healthy lifestyle and live a normal life, without the virus causing any interference in those individuals’ lives.
“The effects of ARV’s in helping persons with HIV/AIDS is well documented, but the treatment can have side effects which, although rarely, couldresult in the person using them acquiring a disability,” says Smith
“We have experienced cases where ARV’s have caused people to lose their eyesight. In such cases, visual impairment would be considered the disability and not HIV/ AIDS,” Smith explains.
HIV/AIDS or ARV’S can result in a person acquiring a disability but the virus itself is very rarely considered a disability.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body’s natural defence against illness. The virus destroys a type of white blood cell called a CD4 cell. As HIV destroys more CD4 cells, it gradually breaks down a person’s immune system.
What is HIV/ AIDS
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, our body’s natural defence against illness. The virus destroys a type of white blood cell called a CD4 cell. As HIV destroys more CD4 cells, it gradually breaks down a person’s immune system. The immune systems of persons living with HIV, and not receiving treatment, will find it harder and harder to fight off infections and diseases.
It may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be compromised- a point where it can no longer defend itself, if HIV is left untreated.
When the HI Virus has destroyed the vast majority of CD4 cells and the human body will no longer be able to fight off infections and diseases, it is at this stage that HIV becomes AIDS.
If left untreated, AIDS will result in death.
HIV / AIDS Statistics
There are 7,06 million people living with HIV in South Africa. An estimated 12,6% of the total population is HIV positive. Approximately one-fifth of South African women in their reproductive ages (15-49 years) are HIV positive.