The 18th of May is World AIDS Vaccine Day, a concept that is linked back to May 18th, 1997, when then President Bill Clinton gave a commencement speech that challenged the world to reach for new goals in the development of a vaccine for AIDS within the next 10 years. It was on May 18th of the following year that saw the first observed World AIDS Vaccine Day, which has continued each year ever since.
Every year we see communities around the world hold a number of activities on World AIDS Vaccine Day as a way to raise awareness of the disease, HIV prevention and what is happening in the world of research to help find a cure.
Know Your Numbers
The theme has been the same since 2013 and the phrase “Know Your Numbers” refers to knowing the Viral Load, or amount of the HIV virus present in a person’s blood. Another factor is the CD4 count present in an infected person’s blood. CD4 cells, also referred to as T cells, are what protects the immune system by way of fighting off infections. A person is diagnosed as having AIDS when their CD4 count falls below 200 cell per every millilitre of blood.
The aim for AIDS/HIV carriers is to get that number as low as possible. By raising CD4 cells, there is a better chance of seeing improvement in the immune system, which in turn lowers the risk opportunistic infections and death. An opportunistic infection occurs when a person has an already weakened immune system. Hence why it’s so important to “know your numbers”
How We Celebrate World AIDS Vaccine Day
Advocates of the HIV vaccine mark this day by the promotion of an urgent and continuous need for finding a vaccine that will prevent AIDS and HIV infections. The thousands of community members, volunteers, sup, healthcare professionals and scientist are thanked for working together in finding an effective and safe AIDS vaccine. They also urge communities to recognize how important it is to invest in new technologies that will help the AIDS/HIV epidemic. But it all starts with bringing awareness.
What is HIV/AIDS?
There is some confusion for those who are just learning about AIDS and HIV, regarding what each does to the body.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a virus that will gradually ravage a person’s immune system over time. The immune system is our body’s defense for fighting disease. An HIV infected person loses the ability to fight off diseases and infections over a gradual period until they can longer do it.
There have been different strains of the HIV virus found around the world, with an infected individual being able to carry several strains at the same time. HIV is classed under two main categories, HIV-1 and HIV-2, with a number of sub-types and groups.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS develops when the immune system of an individually has been completely compromised but the HIV Virus. This means they are unable to fight off most infections, causing them to continue to stay ill for a majority of time as a result of these constant infections and the bodies’ inability to defend itself.
Those infected with the HIV virus can live for up to 10 to 15 years untreated before it becomes full blown AIDS
AIDS prevention is another important part of World AIDS Vaccine Day 2017. Knowing how to keep from spreading it can save lives. Things that can spread the HIV virus to others include:
- Re-using or sharing needles and injection equipment
- Sharing personal items that may have body fluids or blood on them, such as razors and toothbrushes
- Having unprotected sex
The first HIV vaccine clinical trials began in 1987 in Bethesda, Maryland at the National Institute of Health’s Clinical Center. Thirty years on research is still taking place to make the promise of safe and effective vaccines of HIV a reality. Studies today are being done on both therapeutic and preventative vaccines.
Preventive HIV vaccines are meant to help prevent HIV infections in people who are not yet infected with HIV. Therapeutic HIV vaccines are meant to treat those who have been infected with HIV, something which may be able to prevent HIV from developing into full blown AIDS.
- It’s a disease that, to date, has no cure
- HIV can be found in flowing fluids of the body, such as blood, semen, and breast milk, anal and vaginal fluids. However, HIV cannot be transmitted via saliva, sweat or urine
- Unprotected sex (sex without use of a barrier, such as a condom) is the most prevalent way in which HIV is transferred. Other methods of transmission are through sharing syringes, infected needles, razor blades, blood transfusions, and from mother to child.
- When an individual develops AIDS they are left vulnerable to opportunistic infections and diseases that can range from a fungal infection to pneumonia.
- An individual with AIDS is at risk of developing illnesses that can be limiting and life threatening, such as cancer.
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