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Friday, 09 December 2011 14:00

HIV/AIDS – Voluntary screening a major problem

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World Aids Day was observed on December 1 and the theme this year focused on screening to ensure that the person has not contracted the deadly virus. This is because about only 1,000 Mauritians voluntarily go for screening every year, Nicolas Ritter and Dhiren Moher revealed on Xplik ou K Santé on Radio Plus last Tuesday.
Presently, 5,050 Mauritians are affected by HIV/AIDS officially while there are other cases which have not been detected yet. The main factor which explains this is that only a handful of Mauritians go for HIV/AIDS screening voluntarily, causing social workers involved in the fight against the virus to worry.

In fact, the population has still not understood that the virus can affect anybody. Though the virus affects mostly drug addicts who use exchanged syringes, it does not mean that the virus will not affect others, points out Nicolas Ritter, Director of Prévention Information Lutte contre le Sida (Pils).

“The danger is that those who do not take drugs think that they are not at risk. However, we have noted an increase of contamination due to unprotected sexual relations. This is worrying since we risk having a generalised epidemic of the disease,” he explained.

Nowadays, according to Nicolas Ritter, the fact that most Mauritians are getting married around the 30s further justifies the need for screening. This is because they have most probably known several partners before marriage. He in fact insists that couples should go for screening before getting married.

Dhiren Moher also expressed his fear against the risk of a generalised epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Mauritius: “What worries me is that if such a thing happens, women will be more at risk. Many among them do not know that there are condoms for women. Thus, they do not have to depend on their partner to protect them against HIV/AIDS.”

Dhiren Moher, who is also the coordinator of the HIV/AIDS project of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), added that a majority of the contaminated cases in France occur among loyal couples. He quoted as example countries like Botswana and Swaziland where a concentrated epidemic of HIV/AIDS has become generalised. Both social workers are in favour of persons living with HIV to train persons attached to the therapy programme of substitution by methadone.

This will allow them, they said, to better manage the benefits of this service: “But they should also understand that this service has required huge investments and they should not abuse of it. If they want a better treatment, they have to return respect to those distributing methadone.”

Lacking
There are more than 4,000 drug addicts who benefit from the substitution to methadone therapy. Dhiren Moher and Nicolas Ritter appreciate this initiative of the Government but still they pinpointed certain shortcomings of the programme, namely the psychosocial of the beneficiaries and a shortage of personnel.

“Giving them their dose of methadone is not enough. They have to be given a psychosocial support. How can we talk of social integration of former drug addicts when they cannot even work?” asked Nicolas Ritter.

For Dhiren Moher, he pointed out that people living with HIV/AIDS are not asking for a privilege treatment but are only asking for their rights: “We understand clearly that HIV/AIDS is not the only cause of worry for the Ministry of Health because there are other diseases. We are not asking for any favours. We are asking for what comes to us by right, that is we are given treatment as is the case for other patients.”

768 prisoners HIV-positive
Up to now, they are 768 prisoners living with HIV/AIDS. Dhiren Moher and Nicolas Ritter believe that it is high time to set up a medical unit in prisons for these prisoners: “The service being centralised at Beau Bassin prison does not facilitate things. It is important to decentralise the service so that all prisoners accept to get the treatment. Some refuse the treatment because they prefer the conditions of custody in Petit Verger prison to that of Beau Bassin. Both added that drug trafficking is a fact in prisons and that there are sexual relations among prisoners in prisons: “as long as authorities refuse to accept this reality, we will not be able to prevent contamination in prisons….the contaminated person has the right to sue the State because the latter is obliged to ensure his protection.”

Liking a lie-in in people’s genes
People who like a lie-in may now have an excuse - it is at least partly down to their genes, according to experts. Experts, who studied more than 10,000 people across Europe, found those with the gene ABCC9 need around 30 minutes more sleep per night than those without the gene. The gene is carried by one in five Europeans, they say in their study, published in Molecular Psychiatry. The researchers said the finding could help explain “sleep behaviour”.

Over 10,000 people took part, each reporting how long they slept and providing a blood sample for DNA analysis. People from the Orkney Isles, Croatia, the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia and Germany took part in the study. All were asked about their sleep patterns on “free” days, when people did not need to get up for work the next day, take sleeping pills or work shifts.

When the researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich compared these figures with the results of the genetic analysis, they found those with a variation of a gene known as ABCC9 needed more sleep than the eight-hour average. They then looked at how the gene works in fruit flies, which also have it and found flies without ABCC9 slept for three hours less than normal. The gene ABCC9 is involved in sensing energy levels of cells in the body. Dr Jim Wilson, from the University of Edinburgh's centre for population health sciences, said: “Humans sleep for approximately one-third of their lifetime.

Paracetamol warning
Taking slightly too much paracetamol day after day can be fatal, experts have warned. A dangerous dose might just be a few pills too many taken regularly over days, weeks or months, they said. Researchers at Edinburgh University saw 161 cases of “staggered overdose” at its hospital over a 16-year period. People taking tablets for chronic pain might not realise they were taking too many or recognise symptoms of overdose and liver injury, they said. The researchers told the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology that this life-threatening condition could be easily missed by doctors and patients.

Doctors may not initially spot the problem because blood tests will not show the staggeringly high levels of paracetamol seen with a conventional overdose, where someone may have swallowed several packets of the drug.

Patients who have taken a staggered overdose tend to fare worse than those who have taken a large overdose, the study suggests. The 161 who had taken a staggered overdose were more likely to develop liver and brain problems and need kidney dialysis or help with their breathing. They were also more likely to die of their complications. Dr Kenneth Simpson: “They haven't taken the sort of single-moment, one-off massive overdoses taken by people who try to commit suicide, but over time the damage builds up, and the effect can be fatal.”



Premita Leelachand

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