The Faculty of Communication Sciences at Malaga University was the setting chosen for the recent 'Sharing Moments' meeting. This was a debate which took place around a sofa in which medical experts and people involved in the fight against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Aids) tried to put to rest myths about the illness and provide information about strategies to prevent infection.
The event was organised by the university's vice chancellor and the Citizens Anti-Aids Association of Malaga (Asima), and was led by Francisco Camino.
The objective was to make young people more aware of the illnesses and offer a new perspective about what it means to suffer from it on a medical and social level. With that in mind, this was not a normal type of conference, because it was those participating who decided how it progressed, through their questions. “Can you practise safe sex if you are having treatment?” was one question. “Is the illness more common in homosexuals?” and “what is the day-to-day life like for an infected person?” were others asked by those present.
The first person on the sofa to answer all these questions was Dr Jesús Santos, of the Infectious Illness Unit at the Clínico hospital, who began by explaining some concepts about the virus and its effects on an infected person, before then opening a window of hope by saying that it is probable that within 15 or 20 years the situation will be under control.
In recent decades the number of infections has dropped drastically. “Ten years ago they were diagnosing around three million new cases of infection. Fortunately, thanks to advances in medicine, but especially to the work of the associations who work every day to prevent the illness, that number has been reduced,” explained Santos.
Lack of knowledge about the matter and the lack of prevention were two of the main factors discussed during the meeting. Approximately 82 per cent of new HIV infections are the result of unprotected sexual relations, in other words without using a condom.
This is important, because apart from spreading the virus, there are other risks associated with unprotected sex. Blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk are the only four fluids with the ability to transmit HIV, so it is easy to see how essential it is to prevent it and, if it exists, not to transmit it.
The voice of the patient
Jesús Santos was not the only expert to answer questions from an audience that was thoroughly involved for the two hours of the debate. Ricardo Padilla gave a voice to the other side of the illness, that of the patient.
Although it was hard at first, he said, he now describes himself as a lively and happy person. “I often asked myself this when I contracted the virus. My family and friends have given me great support and now I prefer not to think about it. I'm happier now,” he said.
In fact, after this meeting it was clear that it is possible to live with this illness thanks to treatment and, above all, support and understanding from one's family and society.