Can HIV/AIDS be prevented?

Education about the disease and the avoidance of specific behaviours are the best means of prevention when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

There is currently no available vaccine for HIV, nor a cure for the disease in any stage of its progression. Once infected, a person remains HIV positive for the remainder of their lives.

When it comes to prevention, measures to curb transmission is very important. Some of these include:

  • Safer sexual activity practices: It is best to use a new condom each and every time sexual activity is engaged in. Women can make use of female condoms as well. Water-based lubricants are safer to use than oil-based varieties as these don’t usually weaken condoms, causing tears.
  • HIV and pregnancy: An HIV positive woman who is pregnant must seek medical assistance to reduce the risk of passing on infection to a baby. Treatment received during pregnancy can significantly reduce transmission risk, especially during birth and when breastfeeding.
  • Take care not to believe in treatment myths or ‘cures’: HIV is not at all treatable with oxygen therapy, industrial solvents, intravenously administered aloe vera, electricity, “wonder herbs”, hot baths or sexual intercourse with a female virgin. The only means of treatment is that which is recommended by a medical professional.

Where did HIV come from?

HIV is believed to have originated in Central Africa from a type of chimpanzee. Scientists have determined that these animals do experience a version of the virus known as simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) which isn’t as harmful to the animal as it is to humans. The virus is believed (by some) to have been transmitted to humans (mutated as a deadly virus) through the consumption of chimpanzee meat.

Others believe that a hunter who killed a chimpanzee (between 1884 and 1924) contracted the virus through exposure to the blood of the animal, entering a wound on the skin. It is suggested that the disease became a pandemic in Congo during the 1920s, before travelling to Haiti in the 1960s, and finally to the West in the early 1980s. HIV has been classified as a serious medical condition since the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The HIV timeline:

  • June – July 1981: The first cases of HIV are medically recognised due to recorded deaths from opportunistic infections and Kaposi’s sarcoma.
  • 1982: The CDC names the disease as AIDS, and mentions homosexual (gay) men as a high-risk group for the illness. Homosexual men responded by forming the first AIDS advocacy groups.
  • 1983 - 1984: The CDC releases a warning that heterosexual individuals are also at risk of infections, and that mother-to-child transmission is a reality. Blood donations from high-risk individuals is also halted. Researchers from the Pasteur Institute detect a virus in the swollen lymph glands of an AIDS patient and name it lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV). Another researcher also finds a virus and names it ARV (AIDS-related virus). In 1984, a researcher from the NCI (National Cancer Institute) finds a virus he names HTLV-III, but is later confirmed as the LAV virus. In 1986, all of these determined viruses are named HIV.
  • 1985: The American Foundation for AIDS Research is founded (AmFAR). The first test for HIV is finally licensed for use and blood banks begin screening all donations before use in medical practices (surgeries and transfusions).
  • 1986: A surgeon, General C. Everett Koop publicly voices concern about AIDS and urges parents to start warning young teenagers and children about the risk of transmission.
  • World AIDS Day banner - 1 December (global annual awareness day)1988: The FDA initiates a ‘fast-track policy’ for public access to medications still being tested in clinical trials. The public observe the first ever day for AIDS awareness on 1 December (World Aids Day).
  • 1989: Scientists studying HIV observe and report on the progressive nature of the virus (how it reproduces in the bloodstream) before ever reaching the stage of AIDS. The report recommends treatment options that keep virus reproduction at the lowest possible levels.
  • 1991 – 1992: A symbol for awareness is developed – the red ribbon. AIDS is also recorded as the leading cause of death in the USA, predominantly affecting men between the ages of 25 and 44. The FDA also licenses the first rapid HIV screening test.
  • 1993: The CDC launches televised condom advertisements.
  • 1996 – 1997: A treatment breakthrough is achieved – HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) which reduces viral load. AIDS-related deaths in the USA drop by more than 40%.
  • 1998 – 2000: It is acknowledged that HAART can lead to serious side-effects during treatment. The FDA gets to work on safer treatment options. It is also recognised that no medication can cure the disease.
  • 2001 – 2002: Medication treatment is not yet available to the vast majority of HIV positive individuals. AIDS becomes the leading cause of death worldwide, mostly affecting people between the ages of 15 and 59.
  • 2006 – 2007: An HIV vaccine tested my Merck fails clinical trials. Scientists continue to try and develop a vaccine for HIV. UNAIDS releases a recommendation for adult males to undergo circumcision as a means to reduce risk of transmission to women, particularly in high-risk areas of the world.
  • 2008 - 2010: CDC research indicates a dramatic increase in the number of new infections. It is also made known that less than a third of all infected individuals across the world are receiving treatment for the disease. The researchers from the Pasteur Institute who first detected the presence of the HIV virus receive the Nobel Prize in medicine, acknowledging their discovery. New infections and AIDS-related deaths continue to soar worldwide, especially among homosexual men engaging in sexual activity, making up more than half of new infections.
  • 2012 – 2014: The FDA approves a medication called Truvada as a means to reduce the risk of HIV in those who are at risk of contracting the disease.
  • 2015 - 2016: At the end of 2015, it was announced that a total of 36.6 million people were living with HIV, worldwide. A total of 2.1 million of these were new infections and 1.1 million individuals died from AIDS-related complications and diseases. Globally, 18.2 million people were recorded as having access to ART treatment in 2016. Upwards of 78 million people are recorded as having become infected with the virus (with 35 million having died) since the start of the epidemic.
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