HIV/AIDS which is the abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a disease caused by a virus which destroys the protective cells of the body. These cells fight off infections in the body. So, HIV attacking them means that the person with this condition is more susceptible to other infections and diseases.

It is mainly a sexually transmitted disease which is spread when there is contact with some bodily fluids from a person infected with HIV. These fluids are commonly exchanged during unprotected sexual intercourse. HIV may also be spread by sharing sharps with an infected person, from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Another transmission method is via transfusion with infected blood or through an organ transplant from an infected person. It is important to note that it can’t be shared through unbroken skin.

When HIV isn’t treated, it will lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This is the late stage of the infection that will cause extensive damage to the body. AIDS can be diagnosed when the CD4 cell count is lower than 200cells/ cubic millimetre of blood. Also, such a person will have one or more severe infections that are only seen with a compromised immune system (opportunistic infections).

So far, there is no cure for HIV which makes it a lifelong ailment. If the proper medication isn’t taken, death is the expected end once it progresses to AIDS. It is one of the most persistent and deadly epidemics to ever affect humans. But, with proper use of medication (antiretroviral drugs) as well as some other measures, affected people can live long and healthy lives without transmitting the virus to others.

HIV in Nigeria; our progress so far.

As of 2021, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) estimated that there are about 1.9 million people living with AIDS in Nigeria. Out of this number, about 1.6 million of them have commenced medication. The Joint United Nations Programme had previously set a target called 90-90-90 for Nigeria, to end the epidemic.

The 90-90-90 target says that they hope that 90%  of people that have HIV will know their status by 2030, 90%  of people that have been diagnosed with HIV will receive Anti retroviral drugs by 2020 and 90% of people who are on antiretroviral therapy will have achieved viral suppression by 2020.

NACA has said that Nigeria seems to be close to achieving this target; at least 1.6 million out of 1.9 million people have commenced antiretroviral therapy.

While that might seem like a reassuring bit of news, the rate of new  HIV infections is still on the rise with 1.5 million new infections recorded in 2020 alone. HIV/AIDS as of 2021, was said to still be responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths worldwide each year. This means that we must continue to raise awareness about HIV and get tested regularly.

“It is still possible to end the epidemic by 2030. But that will require stepped-up action and greater solidarity. To beat AIDS—and build resilience against the pandemics of tomorrow—we need collective action.

Division, disparity and disregard for human rights are among the failures that allowed HIV to become and remain a global health crisis. Now, COVID-19 is exacerbating inequities and disruptions to services, making the lives of many people living with HIV more challenging.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in his  World AIDS Day message.

Is there a vaccine for HIV/AIDS?

There is no vaccine available for HIV yet, and neither is there any cure for this condition for now. Work is still ongoing on both fronts and we hope for good news in the coming years.

Read here to know more about HIV myths and real facts.

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Till my next post.

Dr Omotola Oke.