Since 1988, December 1 is observed as World AIDS day, one of the first global health days to be observed. AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome applies to the advanced stages of the infection caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were about 37.9 million affected by HIV by the end of 2018 and 1.7 million were newly infected by it in the same year. In 2018, 770,000 people died of HIV related causes and 500,000 new cases and deaths are expected by 2020.
According to the National Aids Control Organisation, in India there were over 21 lakh people living with HIV in 2017, out of which roughly 9 lakh were women. Maharashtra has the highest prevalence of people living with HIV, with 15 per cent of the cases, followed by Andhra Pradesh (13 per cent), Karnataka (12 per cent), Telangana (10 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (7 per cent).
While there is no cure for HIV as yet, earlier this year multiple reports suggested that an HIV infected patient in the UK was the second person ever to be free of the virus after a stem cell transplant treated his blood cancer, a type of uncommon cancer associated with HIV.
What is AIDS?
Once contracted, HIV has the potential to attack the body’s immune cells called CD4, which help the body to respond to infection. Once HIV attacks the CD4 cells, it starts replicating itself and destroys, weakening the body’s immune system making it more prone to certain “opportunistic infections” that take advantage of the weak immune system. Some of the opportunistic infections associated with AIDS include cryptococcal meningitis, toxoplasmosis, oesophageal candidiasis and certain cancers.
How is HIV transmitted?
Certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breastmilk can be carriers for HIV. It can be transmitted through unprotected sex, transfusion of contaminated blood, sharing needles and syringes and from a mother with HIV to her infant during pregnancy. Typically, the time between HIV transmission and AIDS diagnosis is 10-15 years, although it may occur sooner. Even so, the contraction of HIV is fully preventable, for instance the usage of condoms during sexual intercourse is the most effective means of preventing infection in men and women. On the other hand, the risk of heterosexually transmitted HIV is reduced by 60 percent with the help of medical male circumcision.
As of now, there is no cure for HIV and it can be treated by the administration of antiretroviral (ART) drugs that stop the virus from replicating itself. Essentially, most people infected with HIV who use ART, do not develop AIDS.
AIDS around the world
Globally, tuberculosis (TB) remains to be the leading HIV-related illness and it is also the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, responsible for nearly one in three HIV related deaths, according to the WHO.
In 2018, 62 percent of the adults and 54 percent of the children living with HIV were receiving life-long ART. Overall, the people most vulnerable to HIV include heterosexual men, transgenders, sex workers, people who use drugs and people in prisons.
Significantly, between 2000 and 2018, new HIV infections fell by 37 percent and HIV related deaths fell by 45 percent, with over 13.6 million lives were saved due to ART.
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