Protect Yourself against Disease
By Humna Sajjad
HIV, infamous for having no cure, is a nightmare for those that get it, making it one of the biggest terrors in the medical field. This is mainly due to lack of social awareness and safe family practices that this disease can still, in the 21st century, survive and continue to spread. To shed light to this ever-important topic, Department of Biotechnology, Quaid-i-Azam University, on the 1st of December 2021, while celebrating World AIDS Days, held an HIV/AIDS poster competition to spread awareness and encourage progress in prevention, treatment, and care in the society.
The event was organized by undergraduate (BS 5th semester) and post-graduate students under the guidance of Dr. Muhammad Ali (Biotechnology Department in Quaid-i-Azam University). Dr. Asraf Hussain Hashmi (Molecular Virologist at the Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering IBGE, Islamabad) during discussion with the students emphasized that the government should bring forth policies that are long term and for the benefit of the general welfare. He talked about the importance of the 10 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are either directly or indirectly associated AIDS, with the greatest emphasis on Goal 3, to ensure the good health and wellbeing of human beings. This can be achieved by providing public with quality comprehensive sexuality education, which empowers them with the knowledge and skills they need to make responsible and informed health decision. SDG 3 includes the promise to achieve the end of AIDS by 2030.
More than 100 students took active part in the event by making posters. A total of twenty-six posters were presented by the students to bring this important topic to light. It included general knowledge on different topics related to AIDS awareness like: Origin and it’s spread throughout the world, Prevalence of HIV globally, Stigmatization and physiological impacts, transmission of HIV virus, life cycle and pathogenesis of HIV virus, Types of HIV virus, its symptoms and clinical management and many more.
Others made use of Slogans written on charts and sending messages to everyone across the university through social media to get their message across to everyone. From the many slogans being chanted, the most popular ones include: “Open your eyes before AIDS close them” and “Stop the spread. Spread the Facts”.
Some posters explain the origin of HIV and the social and psychological implications of HIV through a case study of HIV outbreak in Pakistan. According to these posters, Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is evolutionarily linked to the SIV infecting chimps. These chimps were hunted and eaten by the people living in Republic of Congo. One of the postulate is that SIV/HIV virus got spread among humans and was identified as the cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency virus (AIDS). A paradoxical situation related with HIV is that HIV patients need emotional support, sympathy, and care. The discriminatory behavior towards HIV patients can results in psychological issues in them, resulting depression and self-isolation. A case study of HIV outbreak in Pakistan also gives insight into these psychosocial consequences.
The situation in Pakistan was particularly discussed by the participants. In June 2019, a small town of Ratodero on Larkana, Sindh faced the worst outbreak of HIV. Majority of the reported cases were of children under the age of five. These cases resulted due to negligence in the use of syringes and needles by the health care workers which resulted in massive HIV transmissions. Many of these cases are believed to have gone unreported due to the stigma associated with the disclosure of HIV. Solution to these stigmas is to raise awareness about proper health care services and information about AIDS.
A few posters presentors poster presentors discussed modes through which HIV can be transferred i.e., blood routes, needles, sexual route, mother to child during pregnancy, vertical transmission, horizontal transmission, tattoos, and body piercing etc. To prevent HIV, one should be aware about these modes of transmission because there is no adequate treatment for HIV, so prevention is better than cure.
Others described myths and facts about AIDS transmission, prevention, and treatment mentioned that there are several myths about the transmission of HIV virus, for example, it can be transmitted by sharing food or using clothes of the infected person. Another myth about HIV is that it can be transmitted by touching infected person, but the virus can only be transmitted by blood, vaginal fluid, breast milk and using HIV infected Needles. Secondly, they discuss that there are several myths about prevention of HIV for example, it can be prevented by having an intercourse with a virgin, taking shower, or using contraceptive pills. However, the fact still remains that HIV exposure can only be prevented if we don’t use infected needles, using condoms if one of partner is infected and using PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). Lastly, painful HIV testing, taking dozens of pills to cure HIV, taking herbal medicine were some of the myths about HIV and aids. The facts say that HIV replication can be suppressed by using ART (advanced retroviral treatments) and there is no need to take dozens of pills to cure HIV. Only 2 or 4 pills are prescribed and the only way to know whether he/she has HIV is to get tested!
One group of students presented that human are susceptible to HIV depending on their genetic mutations. Different variations in alleles affect HIV life cycle and progression of disease. For instance, HLA B allele’s mutation B*57:01 prolongs viral infection and provides a protective effect. Further, precision medicine has been introduced to tackle specific susceptible mutations.
Another group of students presented a very innovative idea that Virus like Particles (VLPs) that mimic the conformation and structure of viruses but lacks the viral genome and can be a successful perspective for an AIDS vaccine. VLPs do not have any viral genome hence they cannot replicate itself inside the host as a result they do not possess any infectious properties and provide better alternatives to other vaccine types like weekend or live attenuated viruses which provide immunity against smallpox, mumps, measles etc. but, it failed to provide immunity against HIV. VLPs, due to their immunogenic structural and functional diversity, may act as an excellent vaccine for displaying HIV immunogens and providing a range of HIV vaccine development options.
Some students presented different types of HIV testing methods for example (1) Antibody screening test that are used to check for protein that your body makes within 2 to 8 weeks of HIV infection. (2) The Antibody/Antigen combination test is used to detect HIV antigen, a protein called p24 that is part of the virus and appears 2 to 4 weeks after infection. (3) Nucleic acid test / RNA test is used to looks for the virus itself diagnose HIV about, 10 days after exposed. (4) Self testing includes home test kits that are slightly sensitive than in person lab tests.
All in all, the world AIDs day activity was a big success as it marked an important event to move toward an HIV/AIDS free world. The poster presentations proved to be beneficial for the vast majority of teenagers and young people inside the university that need accurate and timely HIV knowledge as it helped them understand that HIV virus, alongside stigma and prejudice in learning environments, impair learner attendance and educational performance.