Brought to the general public’s attention in the 1980’s, AIDS is the most advanced stage of infection that is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). At the end of 2015, UNAIDS estimated that there were approximately 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS and this number continues to grow.
In an effort to educate communities about HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day is commemorated annually on 1 December, and brings to light the importance of understanding the disease, learning how to live with it, and how to prevent it.
This year, the campaign for World AIDS Day will focus on #myrighttohealth, creating a discussion on the various challenges that people infected with HIV/AIDS face when exercising their right to health and an environment that is free of discrimination and prejudice. In an effort to educate and inform, here are six answers to fundamental questions about HIV/AIDS:
- What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and is caused by HIV. However, it is important to remember that not all people infected with HIV have AIDS due to the fact that AIDS is the most advanced stage of the HIV infection. AIDS is only diagnosed when an HIV-infected patient’s immune system weakens to the point that it can no longer fight off infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis.
- What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) attacks and gradually destroys the immune system, leaving the body exposed to various infections that would otherwise not affect the body of a healthy person. HIV can also take many years to manifest (i.e. 15 years or more) and during this time, the person will feel well and the body will not shows any signs of a weakened immune system.
- How is HIV spread?
The spread of the virus is called HIV transmission and is transmitted by various body fluids from a person that is infected with HIV. In many cases, HIV is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse and intravenous drug use with used, dirty needles. There is also a chance of mother-to-child transmission that can happen through breast milk. In the event of trauma, patients or victims of attack can be exposed to body fluids from infected people and, as standard protocol, hospitals will test and treat patients accordingly.
- How to prevent HIV transmission
The best ways in which to prevent HIV transmission is to engage in protected sexual intercourse, to avoid making use of used, dirty needles if administering intravenous drugs and, if you’re a new mother who is HIV-positive, to avoid breastfeeding your newborn baby.
While your HIV status is entirely confidential, if you do test positive, your doctor’s first step will be to prescribe mandatory counseling and medication. During these counseling sessions, therapists will advise on how to manage lifestyle changes, schedule regular check-ups and discuss any confidential or traumatic information that the patient is willing to share. It is important to keep in mind that, once prescribed, antibiotics are chronic which means that they will need to be taken daily, for as long as a doctor prescribes them. It is also important to remember that there are no injections that can prevent HIV or any treatment that can cure the virus.
- What can I do to learn more?
The best way in which to learn more about HIV/AIDS is to know your status. The best way to ensure that you keep track of your HIV status is to have annual blood tests. Not only will this ensure that you remain in control of your own health, but it will also ensure that you protect the health and wellbeing of others. If you are looking for more information or resources, visit UNAIDS [link to: http://www.unaids.org/en] or call the National AIDS helpline on 0800 012 322.
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