Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection Essay Sample

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection Essay Sample

HIV, (Human Immunodeficiency virus) is a virus which damages the immune system, and makes the body susceptible to infections and diseases5.

HIV has in the last 30 years, become one of the biggest challenges that medicine and research is facing5.

By destroying cells of the body’s immune system, HIV gradually makes the body prone to infections, which the immune system can otherwise usually combat5. The advanced stages of HIV infection are termed AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome5. The Centre of Disease Control defined AIDS as the stage where the body’s T helper cells, are fewer than 200 per cubic millimeter of blood5. The usually count in healthy individuals is above 10005. At this stage, ‘the opportunistic infections’ like cancers and other diseases occur easily, since the immune system that defends that body starts crippling5. They are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the body’s weakened immune system5. People with HIV are likely to develop cancers which are usually difficult to treat5. The opportunistic infections include vomiting, nausea, cramps, temporary loss of vision, confusion and memory loss, lack of coordination, seizures, fever and even coma5.

Children with HIV have almost the same symptoms as adults3. They may though, develop bacterial infections like conjunctivis, ear infections, and tonsillitis3.

HIV spreads through body fluids, mostly semen and blood. A blood test can be used for diagnosis. Presence of HIV antibodies means a person is HIV positive5. A person can be screened directly for HIV genetic material5. For treatment, anti-retroviral drugs are administered5.

The most common mode of transmission is unprotected sexual intercourse5. Having intercourse with a person whose HIV status is unknown puts one at a great risk of infection5. Drug abuse has become very common in the recent years. The use of intravenous syringes and needles among drug users has spread the virus even more5. A drug user with HIV may transmit it to another using the same needle5. HIV can also be transmitted through unscreened blood5. The blood of a person with HIV is infected. Before, blood was usually transfused without effective screening. With early researches, it was discovered that screening of blood should be made mandatory. In developing countries, till today, screening of blood is an expensive and a difficult task. Things in first world countries are different. Mostly though, the risk of getting HIV from blood transfusions is very low5.

Demographics show that the sub-Saharan region in Africa has the highest number of people with HIV12. North Africa is probably the worst-hit12. “Infection is concentrated in the socially and economically productive groups aged 15-45, with slightly more women infected than men12.” In the infection itself, there is a span of about 8 to 10 years where no symptoms occur5. More persistent and rigorous symptoms appear later5. A person may not be aware about the infection, but even in this time of no apparent activity, the virus is multiplying actively, destroying the immune system5. So a person, at this stage can transmit the virus to another without being conscious of it5. This is a major stumbling block in the fight against AIDS. People who appear healthy may have HIV5. The reasons behind high and low prevalence in different areas are still not properly understood. One would relate it to poverty and illiteracy, but this is not always the case. Countries in southern Africa are doing well, but prevalence is still high12. Most researchers relate it to the behavioral patterns of people in different areas. Another hurdle is that of vertical transmission. Vertical transmission is the transmission of the virus from a mother to her baby during pregnancy or labor. Thus there are many children who are born with the infection3. If pregnant women know they are infected, they can opt for a caesarean section which greatly reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to the child3. But again, when mother’s themselves are not aware, they are not able to protect their babies3.

AIDS is also becoming more and more prevalent in Latin America, with Brazil and the Caribbean countries showing high figures7. There has been an increase of almost 10% in HIV prevalence in South America and the Caribbean7. HIV is also prevalent among adolescents in the States. Within America, 950,000 people may be infected5.  Almost one-quarter of them are not aware of their infection5.

Rates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have gone up by approximately 50%10.

There are drugs to slow the progress of the infection (anti-retroviral drugs), but the infection can become resistant to them5. The use of these drugs then does not create any obvious response in the body5. Thus doctors and researchers have come up with another method – combination of anti HIV drugs for treatments5. When multiple drugs are used, the treatment is called HAART – Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy5. HAART plays a major role in delaying the later stages of infection5. While HAART is not a cure for AIDS, it has improved the conditions of many people with AIDS5. But even though the treatment continues, no vaccine is yet available. Thus the only complete solution lies in prevention.

The ongoing research is supported by NIAID National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases5. Researchers are trying to understand exactly how HIV damages the immune system. This research is providing more information about the infection, and better and more effective drugs are being developed5.

Spreading more and more awareness through campaigns and media has helped cope with the growing risk of more people getting infected by HIV. Because of these awareness programmes, many people now know how to protect themselves, and not expose themselves to the danger of getting infected.

UNAIDS is an entire branch of the UNO which deals with AIDS in various parts of the world, the main focus being Africa9. Most of its activities are supported by the World Health Organization – WHO9. According to the figures by UNAIDS there are almost 40 million people living with AIDS, 70% of whom are in Africa9. International drug companies are contributing to the cause by reducing the prices of drugs and medicines

Media plays a huge role in raising awareness about HIV. Many programmes and movies are being made on this subject, to let people know about the dangers of exposing themselves to the infection. Shows are being broadcasted on television, radio and the internet and people are being educated through entertainment. Student awareness is also increasing. Schools have special lectures and classes on HIV and its implications.

A program, sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi, focused on teaching children about HIV/AIDS6. Kids in Malawi learnt all they need to know to protect themselves, and are saying “No to HIV/AIDS.”6

Haath Se Haath Milaa (Hand in hand), a youth show, has been produced by the Trust’s Aids awareness campaign in north India in association with National Aids Control Organization. It received a huge audience. This 40 episode TV series is in India’s local language. It helped a lot of people learn more about AIDS- an issue that largely continues to be a taboo subject in third world countries1.

A Hollywood movie, Philadelphia, dealt with the social ostracism and disgrace attached with HIV13. Another movie called Breaking the Surface is an Olympic athlete’s tale about his fight with HIV14.

Governments and NGO’s are trying to use all possible means of communication to spread awareness. But many are still at risk, and many pass on the infection, because they are unaware that they have been infected themselves. Many children are born with HIV everyday3.

For people who have been infected, counseling proves to be very supportive4. Diagnosis of such a virus often puts the affected individual in a state of utter helplessness and apathy4. Since no vaccine has been developed, a person may encounter feelings of immense fear and apprehension. Also, due to the stigma attached with HIV/AIDS, many find it difficult to continue with their normal routines8. Many are unable to share their problems with friends in fear of discrimination4. Many people have incorrect of insufficient information and misconceived notions about AIDS and tend to stay away from those infected4. As a result, many of those infected thus face problems at their work place etc. Being singled out in that manner makes a person develop a complex and have a very low self-esteem4. Most isolate themselves from their environment and live a reclusive life of loneliness and despair, and tend to become suicidal4.

Poverty stricken regions are caught up in a cycle of indifference and apathy. Low food production and bad organization make the people of these areas very susceptible. People are already frustrated with their lives – where getting clean water and decent food to eat remains a distant dream. Many care little about life, and live life from one day to the next having barely any hope and will to survive4. Little awareness about HIV is also a problem, due to which, hundreds continue to get infected everyday8.

The fight against AIDS is possible, but is one which is very hard and complex to follow8. But even in this dark picture, there is a light of hope. Many are leading better lives due to better drugs. Many know about the infection, and will protect themselves8. And many of those affected realize what it is like to have such a dangerous disease, and contribute to the cause by telling their stories and giving hope and comfort to others. Thus a collaborative effort of individual people, governments, society and media is needed to fight HIV2. People need to learn more about the disease, and understand that those who have it should not be estranged4.

World AIDS, the 1st of December began in 198811. The red ribbon is an international symbol; the day not only calls for more funding, but also for more awareness among people11. “Around 95% of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing nations. But HIV today is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world11.”

Works Cited:

  1. Haath se haath mila India: HIV/Aids youth TV show, in association with Prasar Bharati and NACO
  2. Luis Carlos Escobar Pinzon; Holger Sweers. Prevention of HIV transmission — what is desirable? What is feasible? Johnson & Wales UniversityHealth Reference Center-Academic
  3. McKesson Health Solutions LLC, HIV and children, Clinical Reference Systems, Nov 2006, Johnson & Wales UniversityHealth Reference Center-Academic
  4. Mary Ann Hoffman, Couselling Clients with HIV Disease: Assessment, Intervention, and Prevention, The Guilford Press; 1st edition, 2004
  5. NIAID, NIH, U.S. DHHS (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/hivinf.htm)
  6. Seventh day Adventist Church, news.adventist.org, January 13, 2006 Blantyre, Malawi
  7. Michael Carter, aidsmap news, http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/41F9B425-A014-4120-A26E-988764309F25.asp
  8. Counseling for HIV Infection and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases, http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf/uspstopics.htm
  9. The Global AIDS Epidemic, www.unaids.org
  10. The World Bank, World AIDS Day, http://www.worldbank.org/worldaidsday/charts.htm
  11. World AIDS Day, http://www.avert.org/worldaid.htm
  12. Desmond Cohen, POVERTY AND HIV/AIDS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, http://www.undp.org/hiv/publications/issues/english/issue27e.html
  13. Jonathan Demme (director), 1993, Philadelphia
  14. Steven Hilliard Stern (director), Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story, 1997, TV