HIV/AIDS Unveiled: Exploring the Virus, Its Effects, and Ongoing Efforts

HIV/AIDS Unveiled: Exploring the Virus, Its Effects, and Ongoing Efforts

Relevance: GS 2- Health and GS 3- Biotechnology

Current News: Persons with HIV who are on uninterrupted antiretroviral therapy lead a normal life and modelling studies have shown, their life expectancy is almost similar to persons who don’t have HIV. Since the first diagnosed case of HIV in 1981, it is estimated that globally 39 million persons are now living with HIV. In India the figure is 2.4 million.


  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that attacks the body’s immune system. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of the disease.

  • HIV targets the body’s white blood cells, weakening the immune system. This makes it easier to get sick with diseases like tuberculosis, infections and some cancers.

  • HIV is spread from the body fluids of an infected person, including blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal fluids. It is not spread by kisses, hugs or sharing food. It can also spread from a mother to her baby.

  • HIV can be treated and prevented with antiretroviral therapy (ART). Untreated HIV can progress to AIDS, often after many years.

  • WHO now defines Advanced HIV Disease (AHD) as CD4 cell count less than 200cells/mm3 or stage 3 or 4 in adults and adolescents. All children with HIV younger than 5 years of age are considered to have advanced HIV disease.

Signs and Symptoms of HIV:

  • Early Stages:

    • Often no symptoms or mild, flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, rashes, sore throat).

  • Advanced Stages:

    • Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, diarrhea, cough.

  • Without Treatment:

    • Risk of severe diseases like tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis, severe bacterial infections, cancers (lymphomas, Kaposi's sarcoma).

    • Worsening of other infections (Hepatitis B, C, MPox).

Transmission of HIV:

  • Through body fluids (blood, breast milk, semen, vaginal secretions) from infected individuals.

  • Mother-to-child during pregnancy and delivery.

  • Not transmitted through casual contact (kissing, hugging, handshaking, sharing objects, food, water).

Risk Factors for HIV:

  • Unprotected sex.

  • Having other STIs (Syphilis, Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Bacterial Vaginosis).

  • Harmful use of alcohol and drugs in sexual contexts.

  • Sharing contaminated needles, syringes, drug injection equipment.

  • Unsafe medical procedures (injections, blood transfusions, tissue transplantation).

  • Accidental needle stick injuries, especially in healthcare settings.

HIV Treatment:

  • No cure, but manageable with antiretroviral therapy (ART).

  • ART stops virus replication and strengthens the immune system.

  • Lifelong daily ART necessary.

  • ART reduces viral load, alleviates symptoms, enables healthy living.

  • Undetectable viral load in people on ART prevents sexual transmission.

  • Essential for pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Prevention of HIV:

HIV is a preventable disease. The risk of HIV infection can be reduced by:

  • using protection during sex

  • being tested for HIV and sexually transmitted infections

  • having a voluntary medical male circumcision

  • using harm reduction services for people who inject and use drugs.

Doctors may suggest medicines and medical devices to help prevent HIV, including:

  • Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), including oral PrEP and long acting products

  • Dapivirine vaginal rings

  • Injectable long acting Cabotegravir.

  • ARVs can also be used to prevent mothers from passing HIV to their children.

Other Initiatives to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS:

In India, the government has undertaken significant initiatives to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and manage its impact. The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), established in 1992, plays a pivotal role in formulating policies and implementing programs to combat HIV/AIDS. Key initiatives include:

  • Awareness and Education Campaigns: NACO runs extensive awareness campaigns to educate the public about HIV transmission, prevention, and the importance of safe sexual practices. These campaigns are particularly targeted at high-risk groups and the general population.

  • Free and Confidential Testing: The government has set up numerous Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTCs) across the country, offering free and confidential HIV testing, counseling services, and linkages to relevant care and support.

  • Antiretroviral Therapy (ART): The provision of free ART to people living with HIV/AIDS has been a cornerstone of India's response to the epidemic. This treatment significantly reduces the virus's load, improving the quality of life and reducing transmission risks.

  • Targeted Interventions: Special interventions are designed for high-risk groups like sex workers, intravenous drug users, and men who have sex with men. These interventions focus on promoting safe practices, distributing condoms, and ensuring access to healthcare services.

  • Mother-to-Child Transmission Prevention: Programs are in place to prevent the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their children during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

  • Blood Safety: Strict screening procedures for blood donations are enforced to ensure the safety of blood transfusion services.

Through these initiatives, the Indian government aims not only to reduce new HIV infections but also to improve the health and well-being of those living with HIV, combatting stigma and discrimination associated with the condition.

Advait IAS