AIDS is a disease that affects thousands of people around the world. Though the number of deaths caused by AIDS-related illnesses decreased worldwide, it’s still very much a widespread issue. In 2022 only, around 630,000 people died because of AIDS-related illnesses. World AIDS Day, which is on December 1st, helps shed light on how serious AIDS actually is, even though most of the time it’s ignored and seen as something to be ashamed of by the public.
Origins of World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 and was the first-ever international global health day. When World AIDS Day was first founded, its goal was to facilitate information exchange about AIDS between governments and organizations. Since the first establishment of the day, HIV cases that lead to AIDS have increased at a rapid speed, pushing governments to try to increase awareness about the disease. Today, each country chooses its own agenda for the day, some even launching week-long campaigns. These campaigns include festivities like concerts, marathons, and memorials to those who died because of AIDS. People participating in these festivities often wear red ribbons which display the fight against AIDS and can be considered the most known symbol of World AIDS Day.
What is AIDS?
AIDS describes the several infections and diseases appearing as a result of HIV that may be life-threatening, such as tuberculosis or neurological diseases. HIV is a virus that damages a person's immune system and weakens the body's capacity to cope with everyday diseases. Though HIV can be transmitted from one person to another, AIDS can not since it’s not a virus but more like the effects caused by a virus. So, in order to cure AIDS, we need to find a cure for HIV. Even though HIV has been around for many years, scientists still haven’t found a cure, but they have developed very effective drug treatments that help most people with HIV to live a long life. These drugs are so effective that if a patient is diagnosed early, they can help the patient avoid experiencing any AIDS-related diseases.
Causes of HIV Infection
A person infected with HIV can spread the virus to others through bodily fluids such as semen, anal and vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk. This is why doctors always advise people to use protection during sexual intercourse. Though the public perceives sexual contact as the primary cause of HIV, it is not the only way the virus can be transmitted. HIV can also be transmitted if the same injecting equipment is used for both the infected and the uninfected person, or it can be passed from the mother to the baby during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. One of the biggest misconceptions among the public is that they can get HIV just by being close to an infected person, but this is not the case since HIV is not a virus that spreads by hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
How to Avoid HIV Infections
Anyone who shares syringes or does not use protection while having sexual intercourse is at risk of contracting HIV, which is a large number of people, but there is a simple solution to this problem: To not engage in such activities. Yes, it really is that simple, but most people continue because they either don’t see HIV as a real threat or are just not educated on the subject and about how HIV spreads. Besides this easy solution, there are also options like post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which are medications that are either taken after or before possible HIV exposure.
Symptoms of an HIV Infection
There are several stages and symptoms of HIV, and the symptoms differ from person to person. The main stages of HIV can be outlined as acute HIV infection, clinical latency, and AIDS. In the acute HIV infection stage, the person can have flu-like symptoms such as fevers, chills, rash, or fatigue. Some people might not even have these symptoms, which makes HIV hard to detect and increases the chance of it spreading to more people, especially when considering that at this stage, the person is at the highest risk of infecting others. In the second stage, clinical latency, the virus still multiplies but at a slow rate, therefore, people in this stage often have no symptoms. If the virus is not detected, the person can stay in this stage for up to 15 years. They will still be able to infect others, which results in HIV spreading uncontrollably. If the infected person doesn’t take HIV treatment, their body and immune system will eventually weaken, and they will progress to the last stage of HIV infection: AIDS. The symptoms of AIDS can include rapid weight loss, reoccurring fever, extreme tiredness, memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.
Treatments for AIDS
If HIV progresses to its late phases, such as AIDS, HIV treatment will either begin or continue. HIV treatment is done with antiretroviral medicines that are in the form of tablets, which stop the virus from multiplying and causing more damage to the immune system. Most of the time, HIV develops resistance to a single antiretroviral medicine, so most patients take a combination of them, and these medications must be taken every day. The goal of this treatment is to decrease the HIV virus in the body to levels that are not detectable by tests.
According to the CIA, the three countries with the highest HIV rates were Eswatini with 27.9%, Lesotho with 20.9%, and Botswana with 18.6% in 2021. There are several factors at play; HIV being hard to diagnose is one of them, especially when considering that a considerable number of people don’t even show any symptoms. Some of the other factors include low rates of consistent condom use, lack of adequate sexual education, and countries that fail to provide full access to healthcare. The public's preconceived and biased notions about HIV, as well as the discrimination against people living with it, also hinder progress in addressing the epidemic. World AIDS Day aims to get rid of the stereotype that having AIDS or HIV is something to be ashamed of, and it encourages governments to educate more people about the disease.
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UNAIDS. “World AIDS Day.” Www.unaids.org, www.unaids.org/en/World_AIDS_Day#:~:text=This year. Accessed 17 Nov. 2023.