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 victims new hope. The “drug cocktail,” as HAART is also known, has changed AIDS from being “an automatic death sentence to what is now often a chronic, but manageable, disease.”
Though ARVs bring new hope to HIV/AIDS victims, they are 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, which is an endeavour the SLF is not able to undertake. In Waiting to Happen, authors Liz Walker, Graeme Reid, and Morna Cornell, remark that the sustainability of ARV treatment in South Africa poses problems that go beyond the financial sector:
…offering treatment poses immense challenges. Ensuring that nearly five million people take drugs every day for the rest of their lives means confronting poverty, hopelessly inadequate health-care service and the ongoing problems of adhering to the strict drug regimes necessary for managing chronic disease.