World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988.
Below are ten facts about HIV and AIDS.
1. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infects cells of the immune system: Infection results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, breaking down the body’s ability to fend off some infections and other diseases. AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome) refers to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. There is no cure for HIV, but treatment is available to reduce the symptoms so that even people with the virus can have healthy, productive lives.
2. There are several ways to prevent HIV transmission: Key ways to prevent HIV transmission include; practice safe sexual behaviors such as using condoms; get tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; avoid injecting drugs, ensure that any blood or blood products that you might need are tested for HIV.
3. Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevents the HIV virus from multiplying in the body: If the reproduction of the HIV virus stops, then the body’s immune cells are able to live longer and provide the body with protection from infections. If the HIV positive partner in a couple is on ART, the likelihood of sexual transmission to the HIV-negative partner decreases dramatically by 96%.
4. The onset of AIDS can take up to ten years: The onset of AIDS can take up to ten years from the time of infection with the HIV virus. Therefore a person infected with HIV may look and feel healthy for many years, but he or she can still transmit the virus to someone else. New medicines can help a person stay healthier for longer periods of time, but the person will still have HIV.
5. HIV is transmitted through HIV-infected bodily fluids: It can be transmitted in several ways including: unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal) or oral sex with an infected person; transfusions of contaminated blood; the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other sharp instruments; the transmission between a mother and her baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
6. HIV is most frequently transmitted sexually: That is because fluids mix and the virus can be exchanged, especially where there are tears in vaginal or anal tissue, wounds or other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection because their vaginal membranes are thinner and more susceptible to infection than those of mature women. People who have STIs are at greater risk of being infected with HIV and of transmitting their infection to others. People with STIs should seek prompt treatment and avoid sexual intercourse or practice safer sex (non- penetrative sex or sex using a condom), and inform their partners.
The risk of sexual transmission of HIV can be reduced if people do not have sex, if uninfected partners have sex only with each other or if people have safer sex — sex without penetration or using a condom. The only way to be completely sure to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV is by abstaining from all sexual contact.
7. 35 million people are living with HIV worldwide: Globally, an estimated 35.0 million [33.2–37.2 million] people were living with HIV in 2013, and 3.2 million [2.9–3.5 million] of these were children. The vast majority of people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries. An estimated 2.1 million [1.9–2.4 million] people were newly infected with the virus in 2013.
8. Mother-to-child-transmission of HIV is almost entirely avoidable: Antiretroviral Treatment (ARV) reduces the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby and protects the mother’s health during and after pregnancy. ARV is initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis (within 7 days). After birth, the baby receives Nevirapine syrup within six to 72 hours after birth. The babies will also receive Nevirapine syrup for a further 4 or 12 weeks, depending on how long the mother has taken ARVs.
9. HIV is not transmitted by everyday contact: HIV is not transmitted by: hugging, shaking hands; casual, everyday contact; using swimming pools, toilet seats; sharing bed linens, eating utensils, food; mosquito and other insect bites; coughing, sneezing.
10. Everyone deserves compassion and support: Discriminating against people who are infected with HIV or anyone thought to be at risk of infection violates individual human rights and endangers public health. Everyone infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS deserves compassion and support.