World AIDS Day 2020: Don’t let your guard down

Yesterday was World AIDS Day which has been commemorated for 32 years on 1 December. This year’s theme is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility” which aims at highlighting how unity, as well as looking after yourself on an individual level can help lessen the spread of the virus.

According to UNAIDS, as of June 2020 there were 26 million people with HIV and AIDS worldwide. South Africa has the highest number of HIV and AIDS cases in the world, with 7.5 million people living with the virus. Despite HIV and AIDS not being as prevalent in the media and not making as many headlines like it used to, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still a potentially deadly virus that needs to be taken seriously. Just because we may not be hearing as much about it, doesn’t mean it’s magically disappeared. It’s still crucial to empower yourself with knowledge about its symptoms and preventative measures.

If you have casual sex it’s imperative that you use protection whether it’s anal or vaginal. Although the risk of contracting HIV through oral sex is lower than anal or vaginal sex it’s still important to be aware of what to look out for. If the person receiving oral sex has sores on their genitals, it’s a no go. If the person performing oral sex has bleeding gums, sores or ulcers in their mouth it’s also a no go. It’s critical to try and be as transparent and honest with your sexual partner(s) as possible so they know where your boundaries lie. Don’t be afraid to ask if they know what their status is and if they’ve been tested.  Even if you’re in a committed relationship it’s still important to regularly go for STI checkups, and to communicate how important safe and responsible sex is to you.

Like many other diseases that are mainly spread through sexual intercourse and bodily fluids there was an enormous amount of stigma attached to HIV and AIDS, especially as it started being labelled an international pandemic and potential crisis. There’s been so much work done by organisations, activists and governments globally and locally to destigmatise HIV and AIDS, and although for the most part a lot of the stigma and discrimination has been dismantled the work will never stop.

If you take anything away from this year’s World AIDS Day it should be to not let your guard down, or the current pandemic take away from the importance and severity of AIDS. Although many milestones have been reached with the success of treatments, education and knowledge of HIV and AIDS, it should still be treated with the same urgency and awareness as COVID-19.