Every 1 December is World AIDS Day, which promotes discussion around Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and attempts to educate the public about the disease. Greater understanding about HIV and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) means less prejudice and better prevention.
HIV is a disease that attacks the body’s immune system. AIDS develops when the immune system can no longer fight infections that can normally be combatted. More than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. It is the disease that Freddy Mercury famously died from.
There are several misconceptions that surround HIV, for example, that only gay men contract the disease. But while more than 34 million people suffer from HIV worldwide, only two thirds are men, and many are heterosexual. Women contract the disease from bodily fluids being shared, the same as men do.
Whilst HIV is predominantly a sexually transmitted disease, it can also be passed on through sharing of equipment for injecting drugs. Although there is no cure for the disease, treatment has come a long way since 1984 when the epidemic broke. Nowadays sufferers can live active lifestyles, albeit with side effects. Amazingly, HIV sufferers diagnosed early have the same life expectancy as the average adult.
HIV medication increases a person’s CD4 count and reduces their viral load. Treatment is now so effective that it reduces someone’s viral load to undetectable levels within about 6 months, maintaining a healthy immune system and ensuring that they cannot pass on the virus. There is, however, no cure for HIV and once infected a person has HIV for life.
HIV treatment involves taking anti-HIV drugs every day. These drugs do not cure HIV, but they can stop HIV from reproducing, hence why they do not pass on the disease to their partners. This allows the immune system to stay strong.
There are now more than 20 of these drugs, although they are not all available everywhere in the world. HIV is normally treated with a combination of three different drugs, some of which might be combined into one pill. Most HIV treatment combinations are taken once or twice daily. This treatment has a very powerful anti-HIV effect.
Despite these breakthroughs, each year in the UK around 6,000 people are diagnosed with HIV because people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others. Also it still carries negative stigma and so discrimination remains a reality for many people living with the condition.
World AIDS Day promotes safe sexual practices and discourages sharing injecting equipment. As well as spreading information about HIV and AIDS, events on 1 December are aimed at reducing stigma for those living with HIV. Many are happily in relationships or with families living ‘normal’ lives, such as the 80,000 people in the UK living with HIV every day.
If you do one thing on World AIDS Day, please try and learn the facts about HIV and AIDS to debunk the myths. Full tips, advice and events for World AIDS Day can be found here: https://www.worldaidsday.org/
Lucy Sherry, Solicitor-Advocate; Head of Medical Negligence specialises in medical negligence litigation, previously representing the NHS Litigation Authority and one of the GP Unions. Lucy now works with injured individuals and bereaved families to achieve compensation for adverse outcomes. Lucy has a passion for learning and sharing her knowledge, regularly delivering medico-legal training to lawyers, attending many hours of medical lectures each year to keep abreast of changes in treatments, and gaining an insight into new health and medical findings to share with Thomson & Bancks’ clients and visitors to this blog.
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