HIV is transmitted from person to person through sexual intercourse, the sharing of needles, blood transfusions, and from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. The virus attacks two kinds of cells, CD4 cells and macrophages, which organize the body’s overall immune system, destroy infections, and ensure that the body recognizes infections in the future. The HIV infection begins with a prolonged period of invisible symptoms, although laboratory studies can observe the progression of the illness. Within eight to ten years of the initial HIV infection, when the CD4 cell count significantly decreases, AIDS symptoms begin to emerge. At this point, the body is in a state of severe immunodeficiency and becomes vulnerable to infections and tumours. Death is the inevitable outcome.
One such way to halt the spread of the pandemic is through antiretroviral therapy. Although it cannot completely eradicate the virus, Highly Active Antiretroviral Treatment (HAART) can control the replication of the virus and prolong a patient’s life. Antiretroviral therapy (ARV), which is strongly supported by Canada, is an inhibitor to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has given people living with HIV/AIDS new hope. ARVS are, however, met with controversy over corporate involvement and high prices. There are more barriers to the success of ARVs, however, including problems of sustainability, side-effects, and the development of a resistance. A steady flow of money must be sustained if ARVs are to be an effective source of treatment.
While Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the most affected region of the world, at 24.5 million infections, AIDS has a grip in every corner of the globe, from North America to the Caribbean, India and Thailand. Experts estimate that 33.2 million people worldwide live with HIV/AIDS and that more than 25 million have died since 1981 (1).
Of greatest concern is the fact that HIV/AIDS is wiping out our current generation of parents, leaving behind 13 million orphans in Africa. The responsibility of raising children is then placed on the grandmothers, who, in their old age, should themselves be taken care of by their own children. This makes the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of The Stephen Lewis Foundation all the more important.
In Canada, an estimated 58,000 people are infected with HIV (as of 2005). Approximately 30% of these people do not know that they are infected, which of course greatly affects the rate of transmission. Avert.org estimates that between 2,300 and 4,500 new infections occur each year, though many of them are not immediately reported (1).
Aboriginal groups in Canada make up only 3.3% of the population, however, they represent 5-8% of people currently living with HIV (2,3). These numbers mirror some of the rates that exist in the developing world, leaving reason for great concern for the ongoing wellbeing of our aboriginal population.