Background on HIV/AIDS

AIDS is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging the immune system, HIV interferes with the body's ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause disease. HIV makes the infected person more susceptible to certain types of cancers and to infections the body would normally resist, such as pneumonia and meningitis. The virus and the infection itself are known as HIV. "Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)" is the name given to the later stages of an HIV infection.

History and effects of the disease

HIV/AIDS has existed in the USA for more than two decades. The first cases were reported in the U.S. in June of 1981, starting with Patient Zero, a gay flight attendant from Canada who became the first known AIDS case in USA. He infected numerous gay men in the states, and is also a reason why people first began to think that HIV only infected gay people. Allegedly, HIV was first called GRID: Gay-Related-Immunodeficiency, however, we now know that this is not the case.

HIV/AIDS cases have been reported in all regions of the world. As of the end of 2007, 33 million people are living with HIV and nearly 7500 are infected every day. The pandemic has had a deep, multi-sector impact on the structure of many nations.

  • Because HIV/AIDS often hits working age populations hardest, the workforce of many nations have been affected, as skilled workers are lost to the epidemic.
  • The education sector is also affected as AIDS claims the lives of teachers and has contributed to serious teacher shortages across the world, especially in Africa.
  • Additionally, the disease continues to affect school attendance and enrollment among children affected by HIV/AIDS.
  • Increasing demand for health care services is overwhelming the public health infrastructure in many countries. This is made worse by the reality that many health care workers are also falling victim to the disease.
  • Many of the nations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS also suffer from malnutrition, food insecurity, and famine. Adding HIV/AIDS to the equation intensify and complicate situations that are already dire.
  • As individuals die prematurely due to the disease, fewer working age people are available to support children and the elderly.
  • In some parts of the world, there are disproportionately fewer women compared to men due to HIV mortality.

The Global Response

Global funding for HIV/AIDS has increased over time, although resources still fall short of the projected need and most people living with HIV and those at risk do not have access to prevention, care and treatment.

The U.S. is a key part of the global response, contributing the highest dollar amount to HIV/AIDS. In its 2008 fiscal year, the U.S. federal funding commitment for global HIV/AIDS totaled $5.8 billion, including funding for prevention, care, treatment and research.

The lack of resources has limited the ability to bring prevention and treatment programs to a degree that will stem the tide of the epidemic in many hard hit nations. For example, the World Health Organization reports that only 11% of people in low- and middle-income countries, where 95% of people living with the disease reside, have ever been tested for HIV; and approximately seven out of ten people with HIV in need of antiretroviral therapy do not have access.

How HIV is Transmitted

Contrary to widespread belief, you can't get HIV by drinking from a water fountain, sitting on a toilet seat, hugging or touching an HIV infected person, or by eating from infected plates and utensils. The following are ways HIV can be transmitted from one person to another:

  • By way of bodily fluids (blood, semen, and vaginal secretions) during sexual contact. Saliva is not considered a transmission route for HIV.
  • By sharing needles to inject drugs. Infected blood can be exchanged between the parties who are using the same needle and syringe.
  • By accidental needle sticks in the health care industry(needles contaminated with HIV infected blood).
  • Through the transfusion of infected blood or blood products (because of new and improved blood screening tools since 1992, this transmission route is no longer a concern).
  • From woman to her fetus or her baby, during the pregnancy, delivery, or while breast feeding.

HIV Signs and Symptoms

Often people who are newly HIV infected have few or no symptoms. Other times, symptoms of HIV are confused with other illnesses such as the flu. If a person were to have symptoms they would include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or under the arms
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, chills, or sweats (especially at night)
  • Frequent pneumonias or shortness of breath
  • Rash
  • Other flu-like symptoms

How to Prevent HIV Infection

  • Speak openly with sexual partners about safer sex techniques and HIV status.
  • If you don't know your status, get an HIV test to protect yourself and others.
  • Get tested with your partner as a way of saying "you care and want both of you to stay healthy".
  • Use a latex condom with each oral, anal, or vaginal sexual encounter. Those with latex allergies should use latex-free condoms.
  • Do not share needles or syringes if you inject drugs. If you do inject drugs, seek professional help to kick your habit.
  • HIV infected women should get into regular prenatal care while pregnant and should not breast feed.

Treatment for HIV/AIDS

HIV antiretroviral treatment is not a cure, but it is the main type of treatment for HIV or AIDs, which requires certain drugs to be taken every day for the rest of a person’s life. It sounds complicated and difficult, but it can stop someone from becoming ill for many years.

Antiretroviral treatment for HIV infection consists of drugs which work against HIV infection by slowing down the replication of HIV in the body. The drugs are often referred to as antiretrovirals, anti-HIV drugs, or HIV antiviral drugs.

For antiretroviral treatment to work for a long period of time, people may need to take multiple drugs simultaneously. This is what is known as Combination Therapy. The term Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) is used to describe a combination of three or more anti-HIV drugs and has come to be a common regimen among those infected with HIV.

When HIV makes copies of itself, it often makes mistakes. That means that within any infected person there are a lot of different strains of the virus. From time to time, a new strain is produced that happens to be resistant to the effects of an antiretroviral drug. If the person is taking only one type of drug, the resistant strain becomes able to replicate quickly and any benefits of treatment are lost. In order to prevent this spread, people take a combination of antiretroviral drugs to reduce the rate at which resistance develops.

At the UN World Summit in 2005, the world's leaders pledged they would try to achieve universal access to treatment by 2010. The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) countries pledged to ensure virtually universal access to ARV treatment worldwide the goal date.

As of the end of 2007, approximately three million people living with HIV around the world are receiving antiretroviral treatment, compared to the nearly 7 million in need. Nevertheless, this is a huge improvement from previous years.

Sources

National Institutes of Heath
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
AVERT