HIV/AIDS: Understanding the Global Epidemic

On 1st of December, 2014, the world will observe the Global Aids Day in order to raise awareness about the treatment and prevention of the global pandemic, HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that 35 million people around the world have the virus, which claimed 1.5 million lives in 2012. In 2014, as the world celebrates World Aids Day, the focus is on creating an AIDS-free generation within the next 15 years.

HIV/AIDS: Understanding the Global Epidemic

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV virus is a special kind of virus called retrovirus and enters the human body through means of seminal and vaginal fluids and blood. Once inside the body, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) starts attacking the immunity cells of the body. As such opportunistic diseases like diarrhea, tuberculosis, influenza etc occur. Misconceptions abound; primary among which is that HIV infection will automatically lead to full blown AIDS. It should be remembered that disease is a progressive one and occurs in several stages. AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the last and final stage of the disease.

How many people are infected with the disease?

Part of the public fear comes from the virulence with which the virus spreads. It can affect people of all ages and classes. The epidemic peaked during 1990s but since then has shown signs of decline. However, the epidemiological map of HIV/AIDS shows uneven spread of the disease. Sub-Saharan African nations are the worst affected. In some countries 15 to 28 percent of the adult male population is living with the virus. Next comes South and South East Asia in terms of virulence followed by USA and Latin America. Western Europe, Scandinavian countries and Australia were the least affected regions.

In 2013, 2.3 million people were living with HIV with 6,300 infections reported every day. Most of the victims came from low and middle income countries, with a sizeable number being women and children.

Who can get the disease?

One of the primary tasks of Global Aids Day is to raise awareness about its transmission, thereby preventing its spread. No other disease has ever been so misunderstood in human history like AIDS. For a long time, the society targeted the gay community as the primary carrier of this disease. In 2010, it was found out that gay and bisexual men accounted for at least 63 percent of the new infections reported in America. In UK, 1 in 20 gay and bisexual men was reported to be suffering from HIV/AIDS with many victims remaining undiagnosed. While it is certainly true that the male homosexual community is at a greater risk of getting the disease; they are often considered as the vector of the disease and not its victim; thereby not deserving of any public sympathy.

Two issues that plague the AIDS prevention program are:

  1. The intense social stigma that surrounds the disease that makes it impossible for health activists and government agencies to carry their message through.
  2. The negative campaigning by religious leaders and the conservative moralists who prevent aids prevention programs such as condom promotion and sex education in schools and colleges.

Is there any cure for AIDS?

As of present date, there is no vaccine since the virus cannot be artificially produced outside the human body. Despite that we now have the HAART or the Highly Active Antiretroviral Treatment with more than 30 varieties of drugs available over the counter. Recently in Pennsylvania, a patient suffering from leukemia was infected with a disabled HIV virus and showed positive results. It is highly possible that a permanent cure of the disease may be on the way.

Doctors say that the sooner the therapy starts among young victims, the longer is the time he is going to live. An HIV positive person with regular retroviral treatment, proper medical care and nutritious regimen can expect the same life expectancy as a HIV negative person.

However, more than the progress in medical science, the most important factor for HIV prevention is perhaps the awareness and societal understanding without which no public health campaign can be successful.

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