Case Studies,

A Global Pandemic?


What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). This virus is passed from one person to another through blood and sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. Nobody is sure where HIV came from. Scientists have different theories about the origin of HIV, but none have been proven. The earliest known case of HIV was from a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, but how he became infected is unknown.

Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don't get sick for many years. As HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system – that is the system within the body which fights infection and disease. HIV disease becomes AIDS when your immune system is seriously damaged. As this happens, viruses, infections and bacteria which normally the body can fight off become more dangerous – these infections are called ‘opportunistic infections’. Without treatment, these opportunistic infections can kill you.

Worrying statistics
Over 40 million people world wide now living with HIV, of whom about 95% are in developing countries. It is estimated that about 14,000 people become newly infected with HIV every day. More than half of these newly infected with HIV today are between the age of 15 and 24 years old, whilst there are an estimated 3 million children already living with HIV/AIDS. Of all new infections in 2001, 68% were in Sub Saharan Africa and 16% in South and South East Asia. To date, over 14 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Vested interests?
There is no cure for AIDS or HIV. There are only drugs that can slow down the HIV virus, and slow down the damage to the body’s immune system. These patented drugs are currently very expensive, and the fact that treatments work better when a combination of drugs are used together makes treatment exorbitant for many in developing countries. Despite attempts by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to make cheaper generic drugs available, no agreement was reached in December 2002 – as the USA refused to sign up to the proposals agreed by 143 other countries.