HIV and AIDS are terms often unknowingly used interchangeably. However, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes HIV infection and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is an advanced stage of this viral infection.
HIV destroys the infection-fighting cells in the human body, thus lowering its immunity and making it more susceptible to infections and certain kinds of cancers. If left untreated, HIV gradually destroys the immune system and advances to become AIDS.
HIV spreads through contact with HIV-infected body fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk of a mother to her child. Sharing drug equipment such as needles or having unprotected anal or vaginal sex with a person who has HIV is a major cause for the spread of this virus. HIV infections are treated with Antiretroviral therapy (ART) where people on ART take a combination of HIV medicines every day. These medicines help to increase the patient’s life as well as reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been leading global efforts to end this public health threat by 2030. For many years now, researchers have been hard at work, trying to find ways to destroy this deadly virus. Their progress has been slow but hopeful.
One of the methods of beating AIDS is the development of a preventive HIV vaccine. It is on trial too and is given to people who do not have HIV. The aim is to prevent HIV infection in the future. The vaccine teaches the person’s immune system to recognize and effectively fight HIV in case the person is ever exposed to the HIV virus. However, vaccination development and trials are a lengthy and expensive process. Once a safe, highly effective and accessible preventive HIV vaccine is successfully tried, it could complement other preventive interventions, thus helping interrupt the chain of transmission. Yet, until a safe and scalable strategy is evolved, it is best to use more tried and tested methods of prevention.
Some interventions have proven highly effective in reducing the risk of and protecting against HIV infection. These include male and female condoms, the use of antiretroviral medicines as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and voluntary male medical circumcision (VMMC). These when coupled with behavior change interventions such as reducing the number of sexual partners, safe drug use and spreading awareness about the treatment of people with HIV have shown good results.
According to the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration, its target is “to reduce new HIV infections to fewer than 500000 by 2020, from more than 1.8 million in 2016.”
By keeping yourself safe and spreading information on preventive measures, we can help make the world safer against this deadly killer.