AIDS Is A Political Disease And A Medical Scourge, Says US Congressman

So said US Congressman Dr Jim McDermott while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 9th National Conference of AIDS Society of ...

So said US Congressman Dr Jim McDermott while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 9th National Conference of AIDS Society of India (ASICON 2016) in Mumbai.

In an exclusive interview given to CNS (Citizen News Service), (watch video interview: | Audio podcast: ) he shared some of his deep insights on fighting this disease with view to ending it by 2030 as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Dr McDermott is a medical doctor who has been a US Congressman since 1989. Before being elected to the Congress, he was a practising psychiatrist. He worked as a Regional Medical officer in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) during 1987-88. There he saw the HIV epidemic, when it was in its infancy, from close range. This experience fuelled his desire to fight the disease as a lawmaker. Fighting AIDS has been one of his top priorities since he was elected to the US Congress.


Dr McDermott lamented that there is tremendous resistance in the global society to be open about this sexual disease. And so people find it difficult to talk about it. “Every year millions of youngsters become sexually active, and most have no idea about safe sexual activity. They are just driven by their emotions. The youngsters have to be educated that the main route of transmission of HIV is through sexual activity. Young people have to know that they have to practice safe sex, which means using the condom unless they want to have a baby. Continuous education about this issue and about safe sex is of prime importance”, he said.

He stressed upon enforcing 100% prevention of parent to child transmission. “When a woman gets pregnant she should get tested for HIV immediately, so that if diagnosed HIV positive she can get treated, and also the infant after being born. There is no reason for the disease to get transmitted at the time of birth from mother to child, as we now have the means to stop this transmission.”

“Sex trade is a reality in every country. We have to confront this directly (rather than hide it under the carpet) and test all sex workers—male or female-and make them aware to practice safe sex through condom use. Also, in almost every country there is an injecting drug culture and we cannot ignore that, as many IDUs are going out and having sex, and transmitting the disease even to non drug injectors. We have to seek this vulnerable population and teach them how to best protect them. In the US we have the needle exchange programme so that they use clean needles”.

Dr McDermott said that when he started working in this field, contracting HIV was like a death sentence. When he worked in Africa, almost everyday while going to the office he would see a funeral procession of someone who had died of AIDS.

However, “The advent of anti retroviral therapy (ART) changed it from a death sentence to a chronic disease like diabetes. But there is one major difference - while there is no stigma attached to diabetes, there still is a lot of stigma around HIV/AIDS in India and elsewhere, because people generally get it through sexual activity. Somehow, in every religion and in every culture there is a feeling that you got it because you did something wrong. We have to get beyond this stigma and deal with the disease. We have to take action to prevent its transmission”.

Dr McDermott said that a lot of the onus to end AIDS by 2030, as envisaged in the sustainable development goals or SDGs, lies on the politicians. “Fighting HIV is an ongoing process. So unless we involve the government and politicians, the disease is bound to come back again. It is the politicians who decide how much money is to be spent and where. The cost to society and to governments of this epidemic is huge - not only in terms of human lives lost but also in ec



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