It’s no more news that the entire world marked the World AIDS day on December 1, a day that is set aside yearly to draw public attention to a global pandemic which has ravaged all of humanity for three decades now regardless of age, colour or gender. Until the advent and circulation of antiretroviral drugs, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDs was tantamount to a death sentence. However, in recent times, significant success has been achieved in combating this menace, courtesy of aggressive enlightenment campaigns as well as improved access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Individuals who have tested positive to the virus now have the opportunity to lead normal productive lives devoid of frequent hospital visits and untimely deaths provided they adhere strictly to prescribed treatment.
Highlighted below are a few salient facts you need to know regarding HIV/AIDs
1. HIV/AIDs remains a major public health burden
While it is good news that since the implementation of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, the incidence of HIV infection has dropped by about 35% and AIDS-related deaths by up to 24%, we must not relent in our efforts at fighting this scourge to a total standstill. By mid-2015, 37 million people were still living with HIV and sadly, sub-Saharan Africa, home to 26 million people living with HIV/AIDs is the worst hit. In recognition of this, one of the highlights of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to end the AIDs pandemic by 2030 by expanding access to prompt diagnosis of new cases coupled with effective timely treatment.
2. No cure has been discovered yet
Everyone needs to be informed that no cure has been discovered yet for this infection, although numerous intense research efforts are underway. However, numerous effective antiretroviral drugs are now available to attack the virus at various levels of its action thereby giving room for the body’s immunity to recover. In addition, individuals on treatment are much less likely to transmit the virus to others once they have achieved a low viral load. This is especially important for serodiscordant couples (one partner is infected and the other is not) and pregnant HIV-positive women.
3. HIV suppresses the immune system
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus cripples the immunity of affected persons by targeting and destroying CD4 lymphocytes which normally mediate cellular immunity and fend off a wide range of infections and other disease conditions. Consequently, as the disease progresses to full-blown AIDs, the patient becomes susceptible to rare cancers like Kaposi sarcoma and infections such as extrapulmonary tuberculosis. On average, it takes about 2 – 15 years to develop full-blown AIDs.
4. HIV/AIDs may show no symptoms
In the first few weeks after the infection, an infected person may not experience any symptom at all eventhough they can spread the infection at this stage. However, some people may experience a few flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache or sore throat as well as swollen lymph nodes. Unless treatment is commenced early enough, other symptoms such as significant weight loss, persistent diarrhoea and chest infections may occur. Ultimately, lethal diseases including tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis and cancers may result and chances of survival become very poor.
5. HIV/AIDs cannot be transmitted through casual contacts
For lack of accurate information, many are often wary of interacting with HIV-positive patients even on a casual level. This ugly trend has led to unwarranted stigmatisation and victimisation against such individuals to the extent that some patients have had to lose their jobs. However, it is important to note that this virus cannot be transmitted through everyday casual contacts such as handshake, kissing, hugging and sharing food or water.
Also, it cannot be spread through mosquito bites. In the contrary, common modes of transmission include unprotected sexual intercourse, unsafe blood transmission, needle stick injuries and suchlike.
6. Compliance is essential for good outcome
For the best possible outcome, compliance is not negotiable. In fact, it’s been discovered that patients must ensure at least 99% compliance with antiretroviral medications to obtain the best result. They need to keep clinic appointments and avoid risky behaviours. Furthermore, if a drug has intolerable side effects, discuss the option of a replacement with your doctor as that is no reason to skip medications.