Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, in short, known as HIV. This condition progressively reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and leaves individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumors. HIV is transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with a bodily fluid containing HIV, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-seminal fluid, and breast milk. This transmission can involve anal, vaginal or oral sex, blood transfusion, contaminated hypodermic needles, exchange between mother and baby during pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or other exposure to one of the above bodily fluids.
For this year, the World AIDS Day theme is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights’. It is an important day to remind all of us that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and care, recognizing these as fundamental human rights. Valuable progress has been made in increasing access to HIV and AIDS services, yet greater commitment is needed around the world if the goal of universal access is to be achieved. Millions of people continue to be infected with HIV every year. In low- and middle-income countries, less than half of those in need of antiretroviral therapy are receiving it, and too many do not have access to adequate care services.
According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.4 million people living with HIV, including 2.1 million children. During 2008 some 2.7 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 2 million people died from AIDS. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35. The vast majority of people with HIV and AIDS live in lower- and middle-income countries. But HIV today is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.
The protection of human rights is fundamental to combating the global HIV and AIDS epidemic. Violations against human rights fuel the spread of HIV, putting marginalized groups, such as injecting drug users and sex workers, at a higher risk of HIV infection. By promoting individual human rights, new infections can be prevented and people who have HIV can live free from discrimination.
AIDS is now a pandemic. World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for all of us – individuals, communities and political leaders – to take action and ensure that human rights are protected and global targets for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care are met.
Genetic research indicates that HIV originated in west-central
The symptoms of AIDS are primarily the result of conditions that do not normally develop in individuals with healthy immune systems. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are normally controlled by the elements of the immune system that HIV damages. Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS. HIV affects nearly every organ system. People with AIDS also have an increased risk of developing various cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, cervical cancer and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas. Additionally, people with AIDS often have systemic symptoms of infection like fevers sweats (particularly at night), swollen glands, chills, weakness, and weight loss. The specific opportunistic infections that AIDS patients develop depend in part on the prevalence of these infections in the geographic area in which the patient lives.
A number of misconceptions have arisen surrounding HIV/AIDS. Three of the most common are that AIDS can spread through casual contact, that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure AIDS, and that HIV can infect only homosexual men and drug users. Other misconceptions are that any act of anal intercourse between gay men can lead to AIDS infection, and that open discussion of homosexuality and HIV in schools will lead to increased rates of homosexuality and AIDS.
Although treatments for AIDS and HIV can slow the course of the disease, there is currently no vaccine or cure. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but these drugs are expensive and routine access to antiretroviral medication is not available in all countries. Due to the difficulty in treating HIV infection, preventing infection is a key aim in controlling the AIDS pandemic, with health organizations promoting safe sex and needle-exchange programs in attempts to slow the spread of the virus. The only known methods of prevention are based on avoiding exposure to the virus or, failing that, an antiretroviral treatment directly after a highly significant exposure, called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) which has a very demanding four week schedule of dosage. It also has very unpleasant side effects including diarrhea, malaise, nausea and fatigue.
Current treatment for HIV infection consists of highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. This has been highly beneficial to many HIV-infected individuals since its introduction in 1996 when the protease inhibitor-based HAART initially became available. Standard goals of HAART include improvement in the patient’s quality of life, reduction in complications, and reduction of HIV viremia below the limit of detection, but it does not cure the patient of HIV nor does it prevent the return, once treatment is stopped, of high blood levels of HIV, often HAART resistant.
Moreover, it would take more than the lifetime of an individual to be cleared of HIV infection using HAART. Despite this, many HIV-infected individuals have experienced remarkable improvements in their general health and quality of life, which has led to the plummeting of HIV-associated morbidity and mortality.
What can we do?
As we are aware, AIDS is playing havoc with human life and we need to take every possible step to reduce its impact over the society. We can take precautions to avoid this disease, we can promote awareness amongst those people who are around us, and we can raise funds for those programs which are being conducted in this direction. For that we can:
- Sponsor events – Walking, running, sponsored silence, reading or,
- Organise an event – Office fun day, jumble sale, cake sale, coffee morning, football tournament, concert, poetry night or dance.
- Other ideas – Kick a bad habit (e.g. smoking), give up something we love for a month (e.g. TV, chocolate or alcohol!), shave our head, organise a car wash, pub quiz, or auction of people’s time and skills.
- Wear a red ribbon and raise awareness. The red ribbon is an international symbol of AIDS awareness that is worn by people all year round and particularly around World AIDS Day to demonstrate care and concern about HIV and AIDS, and to remind others of the need for their support and commitment.The red ribbon started as a “grass roots” effort; as a result there is no one official AIDS ribbon manufacturer, and many people make their own. It’s easily done – just use some ordinary red ribbon and a safety pin!If you want to take your awareness raising a step further then try finding a local event to take part in. Around the world there are hundreds of activities taking place to mark World AIDS Day, including candlelight vigils, art shows, marches and religious services. If you can’t find anything in your area then why not organise an event yourself?
- We can prevent this disease. While AIDS is a high-risk disease it can be prevented if proper precautions are taken and greater awareness meted out to those who are ignorant of the virus and its repercussions on the human body. Here we have listed a few measures which can be adopted by everyone in order to stave off the insidious entry of HIV.
- Prevention is still the best bet. Promiscuous sexual behaviour can leave a person highly susceptible to contracting the virus. Where abstinence is not possible, always use latex condoms. The female condom can also help protect both partners. Use only water-based lubricants. Oil lubricants (such as Vaseline) might even tear latex condoms. Use spermicidal (birth control) foams and jellies in addition to condoms. By themselves, spermicides may not be effective in preventing HIV.
- Avoid alcohol or drugs during sex, you might lose control of your senses and engage in unsafe sex. Stick to safer sex practices at all times and avoid having multiple partners. Practice monogamy. If this is a tall order, serial relationships are a lesser evil than multiple ones.
- High-risk sexual behaviour should be avoided at all costs. These include: oral genital sex involving contact with semen or vaginal fluids, oral anal sex, vaginal sex without a condom, anal sex sans a condom (active or passive), fisting or manual anal intercourse, the sharing of sex toys, using saliva for lubrication and blood contact of any kind during performance. If unable to resist oral sex, use a dental dam. If a woman is infected, avoid sex during the menses as menstrual blood is infectious.
- For transfusions, use disposable syringes and needles. Ensure you get blood that is screened and certified as HIV-free. Better still, get blood from close family members rather than professional donors whose medical antecedents are nebulous.
- The presence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) increases the risk of contracting HIV from an infected partner. STDs could cause breaks in the skin of the vagina, penis or anus permitting the virus to enter your bloodstream. If you ever contract an STD of any kind, ensure you get prompt treatment.
- The CDC recommends that an HIV-positive woman should not breast-feed her baby. The infant should be given AZT for the first several weeks to substantially reduce the risk of infection.
Be Happy – Protect the mankind from AIDS.