Reaching Out to HIV Survivors- How India is Battling This Disease

India has the third largest AIDS epidemic in the world. The affected populations include sex workers and homosexual men. The incidence of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection has reduced by half since 2001. Despite the availability of free antiretroviral treatment, many individuals are untreated due to inaccessibility of clinics.

What are HIV and AIDS?

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a viral disease caused by HIV that affects the body's immune system. The virus is transmitted from an HIV-positive person through the exchange of body fluids during sexual contact, blood transfusion, needles, or from a mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding.

How does it cause infection?

Acquiring the virus doesn't necessarily lead to an infection. The mucosa (membrane lining body passages that lead to the outside) prevents the entry of the virus into the body. Even if the virus manages to pass through it, the immune cells beneath destroy it. Overcoming these defenses, HIV manages to infect a type of immune cells called, CD4 cells. It then starts making copies of itself to release more viruses. When this replication is faster than the defense from immune cells, the HIV infection may become permanent. The infection weakens the body's immune system resulting in infections.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. If an HIV positive person is left untreated, his/her condition deteriorates into full-blown AIDS where the immune system stops working and the patient develops various kinds of serious life- threatening infections.

What is the treatment?

Though there is no cure yet, HIV can be transformed from a death sentence to a manageable illness. HIV drugs work by two methods

The standard treatment consists of a combination of at least three antiviral drugs called "highly active antiretroviral therapy" or HAART. They suppress HIV replication. These HIV drugs are used in order to reduce the likelihood of the virus developing resistance.

HAART has the potential both to reduce mortality and morbidity rates among HIV-infected people and to improve their quality of life.