HIV Basics

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the coordinating cells of the immune system progressively, destroying the body’s ability to resist otherwise harmless infections. When a critical point of immune compromise is reached a specific collection of signs and symptoms emerge – this is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is transmitted mainly through sexual contact, but also through blood products, contaminated needles and from mother to child.

The disease is found all over the world, but is especially prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. It is spreading rapidly in the developing nations of Asia. Globally, men who have sex with men, sex workers and intravenous drug users are considered high-risk populations. However, in the developing world, especially in Africa, the disease is very prevalent among adults of reproductive age – and it is spread mainly through heterosexual sexual activity. The South African Department of Health estimates that 30,2% (2005) of pregnant women are infected nationally, while the Western Cape prevalence is estimated at 15,7% (2005) of pregnant women.

HIV has been a global epidemic for 25 years, and in that time we have come to understand the risks associated with infection. Many myths about the disease have been dispelled. Also, we know how to prevent transmission through changes in behaviour and regular testing. Treatment is available for those already infected to slow the progress of the disease. However, there is still no vaccine or cure.