The Need for Young Women to Learn the Basic Science of HIV

By Marian Okondo World YWCA volunteer at AIDS 2012

Often when HIV and AIDS issues are raised we always think of the social, behavioral and economical science topics: What policies are being implemented, what are the behavioral risk factors and so on. Very rarely is the basic science of HIV and AIDS addressed particularly when it involves the education of young women and men with no basic science background. When I planned on joining the World YWCA delegates as a volunteer at XIX International 2012 AIDS Conference, there was an expectation that all the talks would be centered on social and behavioral science. This however was not the case, there were many sessions that discussed the basic science of the HIV virus, including but not limited to its genetics, pathogenesis, reservoirs and the ongoing research that is currently taking place around the world.

However technical the sessions may have been I realized the importance of learning this area of the HIV endemic. Many times you find people living with HIV, some HIV health care providers and the care givers lacking the basic knowledge of the disease.  They are unable to understand the test results and treatment, the side effect of the medications they take to treat physiological and metabolic diseases with the Anti-viral drugs (ARVs) they are on, they lack knowledge on how to prevent STI infections and co-infections (one of the complications of the disease that may even result in death if not treated) and also lack an understanding of the ongoing research on the use of microbicides in HIV prevention. It can therefore not be stressed enough that we need to provide education on basic science.  Basic knowledge such as, etiology of the virus and how it causes disease is one way to educate young women and men with no science background.

We can empower young women and men living with HIV and AIDS by giving them the resources to learn about their treatment: Why they are given the 3 dose minimum, why they have been administered the particular drugs they are taking and what are the modes of prevention they can follow to prevent co-infections.  They also need to be educated on what they are doing to their bodies when they fail to adhere to treatment, many times the individual already has low self esteem and is in a state of hopelessness; where they feel that there will be no difference if they take the medicines or not, failing to realise what effect it could have on them. Basic science would be able to give a good explanation to the individual and most likely provide the shock value needed to push the individuals to adhere to treatment.

It is also important for the public to know the scientific advances that may help in prevention of HIV and AIDS and improve the lives of people living with HIV. For example not a lot of young women and men understand the need of genotyping. They do not realise that with genotyping they will gain information of their susceptibility to different diseases including HIV and AIDS. Those living with HIV and AIDS will understand why they are not able to take certain medication. This will allow the public to demand access to necessary biomedical techniques and tests from their governments and health care providers.

It is clear that basic science knowledge on the HIV virus is more than necessary.  It allows for better understanding of treatment and prevention. The World YWCA needs to lobby for young women and men living with HIV and AIDS to have access to education on their treatment and their disease. It will empower them to be better involved in their treatment and care regimens.

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