Today we’re introducing AIDS and HIV, where’d the virus come from and how it works, and a few other interesting facts.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the struggle to cure it:
What is AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)?
From its name, it is a disease that infects a body and attacks its immune system, the same system the body uses to defend itself from infections. By destroying the immune system the body becomes prone to opportunistic infections and tumors, which overcome the body until it succumbs and dies.
AIDS is cause by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), a virus that is transmitted thorough bodily fluids, such as blood transfusion, lactation, and unprotected sex.
HIV is very difficult to treat since it is very active in changing the chemical structure of its body capsule, which helps it evade the immune system cells that attack it. Not only that, it also infects these white blood cells and kills them, disrupting the regulation of the immune response against all other infections.
HIV appeared in the jungles of Africa sometime in the end of the 19th century, and it remained endemic in Africa for years before it started to spread to the rest of the world. Most scientists now agree that HIV evolved from a similar virus called SIV (Simian immunodeficiency viruses) that causes similar signs and symptoms in primates. It is theorized that it was likely spread from chimpanzees to humans through bushmeat hunters, who may have caught through biting or other blood-to-blood contact. After the development of the global transport system the disease started spreading globally in the 1950s, and it was not until 1983 that the virus was identified.
After HIV was identified, western scientists started researching ways to cure it, one of the first lines of defenses against the virus was a global anti-AIDS awareness campaign started in the mid-1980s. One of these campaigns was a video aired on Saudi TV channels.
Not all countries agreed with the awareness campaign or believed in the causes of AIDS. South Africa, under president Thabo Mbeki, was one such example. The campaign was halted, claiming that the cause of AIDS was poverty and not HIV. These views increased when the Vatican Pope John Paul II visited South Africa and insisted in the Catholic Church’s position that condoms are against church beliefs, and that they caused sexually transmitted diseases rather than prevented them.
These decisions caused the rapid increase in AIDS incidence in South Africa until 17% of the country’s population was infected. Today South Africa is the country with the largest percentage of HIV infections, and former president Thabo Mbeki has been criticized for having caused a “genocide by sloth” on the people of South Africa.
Until today, there is no proven mass-market cure for HIV. Though there has been news lately of a cure in children and a possible cure through bone marrow transplants. These treatments are still in their early phases and cannot yet be fully trusted until better evidence emerges of their efficacy. But the discovery of these treatments gives hope that one day we will cure this disease, and we are close to it. For every disease there is a cure.
The best cure against HIV today is prevention. Protection from HIV includes thorough screening of donated blood in hospitals to stop blood transmission (such as the recent case of Reham), stopping drug users from sharing needles, and having protected sex by using condoms.
 Sharp, PM; Hahn, BH (2011 Sep). “Origins of HIV and the AIDS Pandemic”. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine 1 (1): a006841.
 RC Gallo, PS Sarin, EP Gelmann, M Robert-Guroff, E Richardson, VS Kalyanaraman, D Mann, GD Sidhu, RE Stahl, S Zolla-Pazner, J Leibowitch, and M Popovic (1983). “Isolation of human T-cell leukemia virus in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)”. Science 220 (4599): 865–867.