What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is short for “human immunodeficiency virus”. AIDS is short for “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” which syndrome is a condition that describes an advanced state of HIV infection. With AIDS, the virus has progressed, causing significant loss of white blood cells (CD4 cells) or any of the cancers or infections that result from immune system damage. If you don’t cure HIV it will progress to AIDS. HIV itself doesn’t make you sick but the damage it causes to the immune system allows HIV to progress to AIDS.

The time for which a person infected with HIV develops AIDS depends on many factors and varies from person to person such as a person’s health status, how soon HIV has been found, if a person gets on medication and also the health-related choices a person makes.

Although there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are certain medical treatments that slow down the rate at which HIV damages the immune system. There are treatments also that help to cure part of the illnesses caused by AIDS but these do not cure HIV itself. Early detection and prevention are actually the cure for HIV/AIDS and offer more options and greater chances for treatment. Remember that today’s HIV medication have made HIV something one can live with. HIV/AIDS treatment details, however, should be discussed only with physicians.


HIV/AIDS prevention strategies

There are three ways in which HIV can be transmitted: sexual transmission, blood and mother-to-child. Thus, prevention education, prevention strategies and policies are related to prevention of these three risks for HIV transmission.

However, establishing prevention strategies depends on the combination of several key factors influencing spread and approach to HIV/AIDS such as social factors (e.g. gender inequality and human rights violations), risk factors associated with transmission of HIV and epidemiology.

A successful HIV/AIDS prevention strategy has to combine the promotion of safer behaviours, reduction of vulnerability to transmission, encouraging use of key prevention technologies, and promotion of social norms that favor risk reduction and addressing drivers of the epidemic.

HIV/AIDS prevention strategies need not only promote awareness of what is HIV and how it is transmitted but also address cultural norms and beliefs, involve people living with HIV, promote gender equality, promote the links between gender equality and sexual and reproductive health, promote programmes targeted at HIV prevention needs of key affected groups and populations etc.


Prevention technologies related to sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS:

- Abstinence

- Being faithful

- Condom use (male and female)

- Reducing the numbers of sexual partners


Prevention technologies related to blood transmission of HIV/AIDS:

After sexual transmission this is the second most efficient means of HIV transmission.

- Use of protective equipment (e.g. gloves, safety containers for collecting sharp waste) to prevent occupational exposures

- Safe disposal of needles and other sharp instruments

- Training in infection control

- Improving safety of both blood supply and administration of blood


Prevention technologies related to mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS:

These include prevention of HIV transmission from the mother to her baby while in the womb, during birth or infant feeding. Prevention technologies include:

- Preventing primary HIV infection in women

- Preventing unintended pregnancies in women living with HIV

- Preventing transmission from pregnant women living with HIV to their infants

- Providing care, treatment and support for women living with HIV and their families

- Testing of pregnant women

- Timely administration of antiretroviral drugs to the HIV-diagnosed pregnant woman and her newborn


Fighting discrimination

Discrimination and stigma are often problems that go together with those living with HIV/AIDS. Stigma hinders efforts of individuals infected with HIV to fight against the infection and also is an obstacle for fighting the AIDS epidemic as a whole. HIV/AIDS stigma can deter people from taking action and testing for HIV.

Stigma is most often expressed in people being fired from jobs, thrown out from their homes, rejected by their family and friends.

A way to tackle these problems is through movement of people living with HIV which allows for mutual support among these. The voice of HIV infected being heard allows for people taking action and combating stigma and discrimination most importantly on a national and local level. Another factor facilitating fighting the stigma is the existence of treatment and education and awareness regarding the infection and its treatment. The logic is that if people know that there is a way to prevent and fight HIV/AIDS, they are not afraid of disclosing their HIV positive status or being tested.


Living with HIV

Being diagnosed with HIV may sound like the end of your life. However, a lot of recent research and work have resulted in the development of treatments. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS but there is treatment which means that HIV-positive people can lead healthy and long lives just like the others provided they can access this treatment and health care.


What to do if being diagnosed?

First you have to visit a doctor who specializes in this disease. Only physicians can give you the right advice for the most appropriate treatment and prescribe this to you. A next possible step might be visiting patient assistance programmes where you can get also discounts on medication. Last but not least, you can join a support group and talk about the disease with others who have the same diagnosis. This has been found to be especially helpful. Do not forget also to talk to your family and relatives about this. They also need to know about your condition so as to be able to help you if necessary and react adequately to your situation.


What can be done about a person diagnosed with HIV/AIDS?

Although there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, there are treatments and therapies that can help a HIV-positive person lead a healthier and longer life. You can yourself choose whether to start this treatment or not because often there are side effects that some people find difficult to endure. However, before starting whatever treatment or therapy one should consult a physician. Types of treatment:

- Antiretroviral drug treatment – these keep the amount of HIV in the body low (more than 20 approved antiretroviral drugs exist)

- Combination therapy – taking more than one antiretroviral drugs at a time