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close this bookFood, Water and Family Health: A Manual for Community Educators (UNDP - WHO, 1994, 108 p.)
close this folderUnit 2: Coping with some of our special health problems
View the documentDiarrhoea
View the documentGuinea worm (for parts of Africa and India)
View the documentSchistosomiasis
View the documentMosquitos
View the documentAIDS


One day, when our health worker was sitting near the pump chatting to a group of people, a young man said, “Everybody is talking about a virus called HIV and a disease called AIDS, but I do not really understand about this disease.”

The health worker said that she was very pleased that he had asked about AIDS: “HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This is the virus which causes people to get AIDS.

“AIDS is the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, also called Slim in some countries.”

“Many people in our country have HIV and after some time - months or years - get sick with AIDS. Many people have friends and relatives who have HIV infection or the disease AIDS.

“It is time for us all to understand what HIV is and how we can prevent it from spreading. We need to know so that we can help ourselves and others.”

“What is HIV?” we asked.

“HIV is a very small germ called a virus. HIV makes the body go weak and less able to fight sickness. People with HIV in their body go on to become sick with AIDS.”


How HIV is spread

The health worker carefully explained the different ways in which HIV is spread. “HIV is found in the blood and in the sexual fluids (semen in men and vaginal secretions in women).”

This means that HIV is spread in three main ways:

1. Sex

Most people get HIV from having sex with someone who already has HIV.

2. From infected blood

People get HIV when HIV infected blood enters their blood. This infected blood can come from a blood transfusion. It can also come from a needle or a blade that has been used on a person with HIV and not sterilized afterwards.

3. Mothers to babies

Women with HIV can pass it on to their babies.

The baby becomes infected while in the mother’s womb or as it is being born. There is also some risk of transmission through breast milk.

But breast-feeding is recommended even if the mother or the baby or both have HIV, unless your health worker gives you special reasons not to do so.

Breastmilk is almost always the best food for babies.

“HIV is not spread by sharing food, touching, hugging, shaking hands, crying, sitting close to other people or holding other people in normal ways,” the health worker said.

“You cannot give or get HIV by sharing combs, sheets, towels or clothes.

Sharing toilets or latrines is also safe.”

“Can you get HIV from a mosquito bite?” we asked.

“No. You cannot get HIV from mosquitos, bedbugs or any other insect or animal.”

How HIV infection can be prevented

“How can we avoid becoming infected with HIV?” said an anxious looking woman.

“Here are some ways of keeping safe,” said the health worker.

“As we said, most people get HIV from having sex so the first three ways are the most important:

1. Do not have sex until you get married and then stay faithful to that partner.

2. If you know that you are uninfected and are already sexually active, have sex only with a mutually faithful partner who you know to be uninfected.

3. In all other situations use a condom during sex.”

Other ways of keeping safe are:

4. Women with HIV should seek advice before getting pregnant because they may pass the HIV to the baby.

5. Avoid the need for blood transfusions. Seek medical treatment for hookworm and malaria before you become anaemic.

6. If you cannot avoid a blood transfusion, insist on having blood which has been tested for HIV

7. When you cannot avoid skin-piercing instruments like blades, needles and syringes, insist on having sterilized instruments.

8. Do not share razor blades, because they might come into contact with cut skin.

How can we know if we have contracted the virus?

“Can someone know if they have contracted HIV?” we asked.

“Most people with HIV feel healthy at first, for months or even years.

“They do not know that they have HIV. If you are healthy the only way to know whether you have HIV is to have a special blood test.

“It is important for someone to explain about the test before you take it and to make sure someone is there to talk to after the test,” the health worker explained.

Caring for people with AIDS

“My sister has just found out that she has AIDS,” said one woman, shyly. “I want to look after her, but I am afraid that I could become infected.”

“Do not be afraid,” the health worker reassured her. “Take some simple precautions like covering any cuts or wounds you or she may have with waterproof plasters. If you do not have any plasters, use a piece of clean cloth to cover the wounds. Keep the home very clean. Be careful with any bloodstained clothes or sheets or cloths. Wash them with plenty of soap and water and hang them to dry. The HIV germ cannot survive exposure to sunshine or dryness.

“Remember that your sister needs your love and help. People with HIV or AIDS need support from family members, friends and neighbours.

“We can help make sure that they get medical help, that they have plenty of nutritious food and drink, and that they get enough rest and relaxation.”


Key points
Unit 2: Coping with our special health problems

· Diarrhoea is one of our special health problems. We can help prevent it by keeping food and water clean, by using latrines and keeping them clean, by breast-feeding and by immunizing children. A child with diarrhoea needs plenty of liquids, food and, if the diarrhoea is severe, trained medical help.

· Guinea worm is also a problem, but can be prevented by boiling or filtering water.

· Schistosomiasis will go away if people do not urinate or defecate near and in water.

· Mosquitos will be less of a problem if we fill in puddles, cut long grass and put fish in our ponds. We can avoid malaria by protecting ourselves from bites. If we get malaria we need medical help.

· Simple precautions can help us protect ourselves from getting AIDS. We can care for people without the risk of becoming ill.