AIDS, first discovered in 1981, has quickly become a fast-spreading worldwide
epidemic. At the end of 2001, according to UNAIDS estimates, 40 million men,
women and children worldwide were living with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes
AIDS. In Asia, figures continue to climb and for the first time, despite effective
prevention efforts in some smaller countries, the number of newly infected people
reached one million. The epidemic continues its rapid spread throughout Africa,
with 3.4 million new infections and 2.3 million deaths in 2001. In Swaziland,
Botswana and some areas of South Africa, more than 30% of pregnant women are
HIV-positive. In West Africa, several countries with previously low infection
numbers - including Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, have now passed
the 5% infection mark.There is a serious threat of major, generalized epidemics.
In some Middle Eastern countries as yet virtually untouched by HIV, infection
is beginning to spread rapidly among high-risk groups.
As the epidemic spreads, so does its impact on the development of societies
and well being of economies. In sub-Saharan Africa, the hardest hit countries
could lose more than 20% of their GDP by 2020 because of AIDS. Also severely
affected are the education systems, civil administrations, health services and
farms of many countries. Today, life expectancy in the region is dropping -
were it not for AIDS, life expectancy would be at least 62 years; instead it
is 47 years.
We chose to talk about AIDS in Africa, because not only this continent is the
most affected in the world, but it deals also with Muslims African countries
being affected by the disease. But before focusing our attention on the disease
and its consequences, let us have a clear understanding of the HIV virus and
see what the transmission routes are.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that affects several kinds of
cells in the body, the most important of which is a type of white blood cell
called the CD4 lymphocyte (also known as T-cell). The CD4 is a major component
of the human immune system, which protects the body from infectious diseases.
As the immune cells are lost, the body becomes susceptible to many infections.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) occurs when a person's immune system
is so depleted that they develop unusual infections from bacteria and viruses
that normally don't affect people with functional immune systems.
HIV is transmitted through four principal routes, or modes: exposure through sexual activity, contact with contaminated blood, exposure through blood and needles, and from mother to child through pregnancy and birth.
Transmission through sexual activity: This can occur via intercourse and other direct contact with infectious areas (blisters, open sores, rashes, mucous patches) or warts; contact with infected mucous membranes in the urethra, cervix, throat, or eyes; and contact with clothes or bedding contaminated with infected body fluids. Various researches have established that 85-90% of HIV infections are through sexual intercourse.
Transmission via contaminated blood: Safety has been a concern since the beginning of the era of transfusion medicine and although it is not unique to the AIDS epidemic, the advent of AIDS and HIV infection raised concerns about the safety of the blood supply.
Transmission through blood and needles: Substance abusers compose a population severely affected by AIDS. The spread of AIDS in the substance-abusing population occurs via two primary vectors. Substance abusers transmit the HIV virus to other abusers through the use of unclean intravenous needles or other blood contaminated drug apparatus. In addition, as with other populations at risk of AIDS, substance abusers spread HIV to other drug users and nonusers alike through unsafe sexual practices. The use of IV drugs without cleaning needles between uses and users is the prominent risk in the former category. Needle hygiene behaviors among intravenous drug users are not as frequent as they might be and not frequent enough to significantly alter the spread of AIDS through blood and needles. Many counselors and epidemiologists consider substance users to be the second wave of the AIDS epidemic.
Transmission from mother to child: The infant may become infected with HIV while developing in the uterus, during labor or after delivery while breast-feeding.
Let us understand the progression of the virus from the first infection, HIV, to the last stage of the disease, AIDS.