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close this bookThe Business Response to HIV/AIDS: Innovation & Partnership (UNAIDS, 1997, 60 p.)
close this folderThe Challenge of HIV/AIDS
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. PROFILE OF THE DISEASE
View the document2. THE IMPACT OF THE EPIDEMIC
Open this folder and view contents3. THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF HIV/AIDS


HIV can be transmitted when the blood or body fluids of an infected person come into contact with those of an uninfected person. Unprotected sexual intercourse – both heterosexual and homosexual – accounts for up to 85 percent of new infections. Adults are also infected by sharing injecting equipment and receiving transfusions of infected blood. Most of the children who are infected acquire the virus from their mothers around the time of birth or through breastmilk.

HIV destroys people's immune systems – their natural defence against other diseases. So illnesses which are easily overcome by healthy people become dangerous and eventually fatal. Although a person can pass on the virus from the day they are infected with HIV, they can take over a decade to show any visible symptoms of disease. So HIV can spend many years spreading through a population before it is recognised as a problem.

Several sub-types of HIV have been identified. Different strains predominate in different parts of the world, but it is not yet known whether this has any implications for the spread of the disease. It certainly complicates the task of developing a vaccine or a cure.

Drug research continues. Specialists say that no vaccine will be available for general use for several years. Treatment with a combination of existing drugs can prolong life, but does not cure the disease. These drugs are expensive and difficult to administer – they are currently out of the reach of the vast majority of infected people who live in developing countries. At the moment, the best defence against HIV is to reduce the number of new infections.