World AIDS Day 2023: Understanding and Preventing HIV/AIDS

Team Udayavani, Dec 1, 2023, 9:51 AM IST

Today, on World AIDS Day, the global community unites to renew its commitment to the battle against HIV/AIDS, commemorating progress and emphasizing the ongoing challenges.

World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 39 million individuals globally are infected by this virus. The disease has claimed approximately 40.4 million lives.

However, what is concerning is that only about 75 percent (about 29.5 million) of those having HIV/AIDS are currently receiving anti-retroviral treatment. In 2022 alone, HIV/AIDS has caused 630,000 deaths.

These statistics underscore the pressing need for continued awareness, access to treatment, and preventative measures to combat this global health challenge.

Understanding HIV and AIDS:

Understanding the distinction between HIV and AIDS is crucial in addressing the virus and providing appropriate care and support to individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically targeting CD4 cells, also known as T cells, which help the immune system fight off infections. Over time, HIV can destroy enough of these cells that the body becomes unable to combat infections and diseases, leaving it susceptible to various opportunistic infections.

When HIV advances to its later stage and significantly weakens the immune system, it progresses into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). AIDS is diagnosed when someone with HIV has a CD4 cell count below 200 cells/mm³ or when they develop specific opportunistic infections or cancers.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and while HIV can lead to AIDS if left untreated, not everyone with HIV develops AIDS. With early detection and proper treatment, people living with HIV can manage the virus effectively, prevent its progression to AIDS, and lead healthy lives.

Did you know?

Testing positive for HIV infection is not the end of life. With timely and appropriate medical care, people with HIV can lead a healthy, and long life. Anti-retroviral therapy (ART), which can suppress HIV replication, can halt, and restore the immune system in an infected person and prevent the progression of the disease.

Myths vs Facts: Understanding HIV/AIDS

Myth: HIV can spread through casual contact.
Fact: HIV is primarily transmitted through specific bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. It does not spread through hugging, kissing, or sharing utensils.

Myth: HIV-positive individuals always look sick.
Fact: People living with HIV may not display symptoms for years after infection. Proper treatment and care can enable individuals to live healthy lives.

Myth: HIV/AIDS only affects certain groups.
Fact: HIV can impact anyone, irrespective of age, gender, or sexual orientation. Eradicating stigma and discrimination remains crucial.

Origins and Transmission:

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), responsible for causing AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), is believed to have originated from chimpanzees in Central Africa. It was first recognized in the early 1980s and has since evolved into a global health concern.

HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing needles, and from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding. Understanding modes of transmission is critical in prevention efforts.

Preventing HIV/AIDS: 

  • Practice Safe Sex: Consistently use condoms during sexual intercourse to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Limiting the number of sexual partners can also lower the chances of exposure to the virus.
  • Get Tested Regularly: Encourage routine HIV testing, especially if sexually active or if there’s a possibility of exposure. Knowing one’s HIV status allows for timely interventions and reduces the risk of transmission.
  • Avoid Sharing Needles: Refrain from sharing needles or syringes, as this is a significant route of HIV transmission among individuals who inject drugs.
  • Consider Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): For individuals at high risk of contracting HIV, discuss with healthcare professionals the option of PrEP, a preventive medication regimen.
  • Seek Early Treatment: If diagnosed with HIV, initiate Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) promptly. Adhering to ART not only improves health but also lowers the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
  • Pregnancy and Prevention: Pregnant women living with HIV should seek medical care to prevent mother-to-child transmission by following prescribed treatment protocols.
  • Educate and Raise Awareness: Spread accurate information about HIV/AIDS to dispel myths and reduce stigma associated with the virus. Promote discussions on safe sex practices and the importance of testing and treatment.
  • Support Safe Practices in Healthcare Settings: Ensure healthcare facilities follow proper infection control practices, especially regarding needle safety and sterilization procedures.
  • Promote Holistic Health: Encourage overall health and well-being, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and reducing stress, as these factors contribute to a healthy immune system.

Treatment for HIV/AIDS in India

In India, the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) implements multifaceted approaches to prevent HIV transmission. NACO focuses on awareness campaigns, promoting safe sex practices, providing access to testing and treatment, and ensuring support for marginalized communities.

Preventing HIV/AIDS necessitates a comprehensive approach involving education, accessible healthcare services, community involvement, and policy support. Combating the pandemic requires a collective effort from governments, healthcare providers, civil society, and individuals worldwide.

Together, through sustained awareness, education, and proactive measures, we can work towards a future free from the burden of HIV/AIDS.

For more information on HIV prevention, individuals can reach out to local healthcare centers or contact the National AIDS Helpline: 1097.

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