HIV/AIDS – Taking A Closer Look
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that affects the human immune system and destroys the body’s natural ability to defend itself against any other infection. The CD4+ white blood cells form a key part of the body’s defense mechanism, also known as the immune system. Once a person is affect by the HIV the person’s body starts to lose its natural ability to combat a number of diseases including infections, cancers, and other ailments. The final stage of the HIV infection is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in which the immune system is severely compromised and results in ultimate death of the person.
HIV is transmitted by the virus entering a person’s blood stream. HIV is transmitted from an infected individual to another. It is transmitted–
HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, touching, kissing, sharing plates, or drinking glasses. HIV infection can be detected by testing the blood, urine, or saliva. Blood tests are considered the most reliable by far.
What makes the infection and subsequently the disease deadly are the fear and the stigma arising from discrimination, prejudice, and maltreatment of infected people. Infected people often suffer much psychological trauma and are reluctant to seek treatment. Social and family ostracism leads to being shunned at work leading to negative financial implications.
The Global Pandemic
According to WHO, UNAIDS, and UNICEF statistics published in 2011, over 34 million people in the world were living with HIV/AIDS including 3.4 million children. About 50% of these people were women. About 2.7 million people were reported to have been infected HIV in 2010 including 390,000 children. AIDS deaths in 2010 were pegged at 1.8 million.
In 2010, over 22.9 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. According to reports, HIV/AIDS in the region has left about 15 million orphans. In South Africa about 5.6 million people were infected with HIV/AIDS, and in Nigeria there were about 3.3 million.
In 2010, about 21,391 people in Australia were living with HIV/AIDS. In all over 30,486 people have been diagnosed with HIV and 10,446 with AIDS. As of 2010, over 6,776 AIDS related deaths were reported in the country. New South Wales was reportedly the worst affected region in Australia.
Over 2.39 million people in India were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in the year 2010 almost 40% of whom were women. Thailand reported over 530,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS in the same year, Vietnam reported about 280,000. Cambodia reported approximated 63,000 infections and Myanmar over 240,000.
UNAIDS reports estimated that approximately 2.3 million people in Europe were living with HIV or AIDS in 2010. Of these, approximately 114,766 were living in the UK. There were 6,136 new HIV infections detected in the UK and 26,791 diagnoses of AIDS in 2010. About 19,912 people lost their lives to AIDS.
Latin America –
In 2009, over 1.4 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America. Mexico alone reported about 220,000 infected people. Over 58,000 people reportedly died of AIDS that year in the region. In 2009, about 240,000 people in the Caribbean were living with HIV/AIDS and about 12,000 died of AIDS.
In Canada over 65,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2009 vis-à-vis 57,000 in 2005. The number of new infections detected that year was approximately 3,300. About 11% of the new infections affected aboriginal people.
A Look At The US
The first case of what was later named AIDS was reported in the US in 1981. Since then, the disease has become an epidemic and has made its presence felt in all the states and in the District of Columbia. In all of the 1.7 million people detected with HIV about 619,000 have died and 1.2 million are surviving with the infection. 20% of those infected with HIV are not even aware of their infection exposing others to the potential risks of contacting the infection. Going by race, African Americas are the worst affected. A look at the HIV/AIDS statistics is alarming -
HIV Vaccine – How Far Are We?
Among the many initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS, work on development of a preventive vaccine tops the agenda of most research outfits. Most scientists and researchers agree that a vaccine is quite achievable since work with monoclonal antibodies (MAb) has provided ample testimony that HIV may be combated.
In 2009, researchers claimed that a new AIDS vaccine RV144 which had been administered in two stages to over 16,000 people in a $105 million test in Thailand had proved about 31% successful in preventing HIV. In the same year, scientists from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) reported the discovery of new antibodies which were 10 times more effective in neutralizing the HIV virus, sparking off hopes for a vaccine. In July 2012, the California-based TSRI, the world’s largest private non-profit bio-medical research outfit, was also awarded a $77 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant is meant to fund a 7 year project to further research and develop the HIV vaccine. The other institution to receive the NIH grant this year is the Duke Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology-Immunogen Discovery of the Duke University which received over $19.7 million to fund research and development of the HIV/AIDS vaccine. The greatest challenge faced by researchers is the high mutation rate of the virus.
The HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) is an international association of researchers and scientists working towards discovering an effective and viable vaccine to prevent HIV. The HTVN is supported in this mission of building up a close collaboration between those attempting to turn the tide against HIV by the US Department of Health and Human Services through the NIH.
HIV Vaccine Awareness Day is observed across the world on May 18.
In the absence of a vaccine or a cure, most medical practitioners resort to antiretroviral drug therapy/treatment to combat HIV. This treatment, though unable to eradicate the virus, attempts to restrict it from multiplying and causing further damage. Therapies using more than one antiretroviral are preferred as they prevent the virus from becoming resistant to any one drug. This treatment is called the Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). Currently there are about 20 approved antiretroviral drugs.
Having HIV does not mean the person is suffering from AIDS. It takes many years for the HIV to completely affect the immune system and lead to AIDS. Early diagnosis of HIV allows for use of medicines which slow down the action of the HIV on the immune system. A disciplined lifestyle and proper treatment often lets affected people to live long lives.
Awareness and prevention in combination with treatment and research is the key to containing the epidemic. Safe sex education, condom drives, medical awareness drives targeted at educating people especially the youth are very important means to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS. Most national administrations and health departments are focusing on prevention.
What can we do to control the population?
Some people believe that population control is the wealthy imposing unwanted regulation on the poor. Many of the methods for controlling population sizes are also heavily criticized.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is the main UN program which aims to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS by formulating and executing a strong global program. Besides global policy determination, UNAIDS works in partnership with various governmental and private agencies to provide adequate regional support to those who suffer from HIV/AIDS. One of the key objectives of the UNAIDS is to provide relief to 15 million HIV affected people by 2015. In this mission other UN agencies such as the UNHCR, the UNICEF, and the WHO are key collaborators.
Besides UN and state initiatives, a number of non-profit organizations are very active in raising funds, research, treatment, support, and spreading awareness. AVERT, based in Horsam, UK is an international AIDS Charity committed to turning the tide against HIV/AIDS. The AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) is one of the world’s largest non-profits committed to the cause. Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) are other large non-profits which have persistently combated the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the world. Africare focuses on HIV/AIDS relief in Africa. The AIDS Research Alliance, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and American Social Health Association focus on the US.
In the US, a number of federal and state funded AIDS Service Organizations (ASO) offer testing, counseling, treatment, financial and other support services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are instrumental in providing information and assistance. The following are HIV/AIDS hotlines for assistance in the US.
AIDS Treatment Data Network - 1-800-734-7104
AIDSinfo - 1-800-HIV-0440 (1-800-448-0440)
American Social Health Association's Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Hotline - 1-919-361-8488
GMHC AIDS Hotline - 1-800-AIDS-NYC (1-800-243-7692)
Hemophilia AIDS Network - 1-800-424-2634
HIV Health InfoLine - 1-866-HIV-INFO (1-866-448-4636)
National AIDS Hotline - 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
National Association of People With AIDS Hotline - 1-240-247-0880
Influence in Cinema and Popular Culture
In the past two decades, cinema has been used as a powerful media to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS. A number of films were centered on the theme. These include Philadelphia, Longtime Companion, And the Band Played On, A Mother’s Prayer, Angels in America, Life and Death on the A-List, Breaking The Surface, and Rent. Popular documentary films include - 30 Years From Here, Angels in the Dust, Bad Blood: A Cautionary Tale, A Closer Walk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, The Gift, House of Numbers, The Lazarus Effect, Positive: A Journey Into AIDS, State of Denial, and The Storm.
In Indian cinema a number of movies such as Nidaan, 68 Pages, Phir Milenge, and My Brother… Nikhil have tried to spread HIV/AIDS awareness.
Some very famous celebrities fought very public battles with HIV/AIDS raising much awareness about the disease. Anthony Perkins (Actor), Amanda Blake (Actress), Arthur Ashe (Sportsman), Esteban De Jesús (Boxer), Freddie Mercury (Singer), Glenn Burke (Basketball Player), Howard Ashman (Lyricist-Director), Isaac Asimov (Author), John Curry (Skater), Keith Haring (Artist), Liberace (Pianist), Perry Ellis (Fashion Designer), Robert Reed (Actor), Rock Hudson (Actor), Rudolf Nureyev (Dancer), and Tony Richardson (Actor).