TackleAfrica works in sub-Saharan Africa, the part of the world most affected by HIV and AIDS. Over two thirds of all people living with HIV, live here. Our work mainly focusses on young people, one of the groups most at risk of infection. It is estimated that 10 million people aged 15-24 are living with HIV worldwide, representing about 40% of all new infections.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus works by weakening the immune system, making you less able to fight off other infections and illnesses. With correct treatment and a healthy lifestyle, people can live for many years carrying the virus without it progressing to AIDS. When the immune system is badly damaged as a result of HIV, you become vulnerable to “opportunistic infections”, for example, tuberculosis. It is at this point where you may be diagnosed as having Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Without treatment it is rare to live longer than one year with AIDS as your body cannot fight off infections. Worldwide, tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is a human virus transmitted through certain bodily fluids of someone infected: these are sexual fluids such as semen, pre-semen and vaginal fluids, as well as blood and breastmilk. HIV is detectable in – but is not transmitted by – urine, saliva, sweat and tears. HIV does not live long outside the human body and is not transmitted through mosquito bites.
How many people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa?
While the whole region has a 4.7% prevalence rate, this can vary dramatically between countries, and even areas within countries. Swaziland has the highest HIV rate of any country worldwide, with over 27% of the population living with HIV. Kenya has roughly 5% prevalence but Homa Bay in Kenya has a 25% prevalence in some areas. Conversely in parts of Kenya like Lamu, prevalence is less than 1%. There are lots of factors that contribute to this, such as differing culture and customs, religion, education level, urbanisation and so on.
Where did HIV come from?
There is a lot of debate in the scientific community, but it is believed to have originated in monkey and was at some point transferred to humans. The earliest known human occurrence of HIV was in Kinshasa, DRC, in the 1920s.
Who can catch HIV?
Anyone. There are many myths surrounding transmission, but the truth is HIV does not discriminate and can infect anyone. HIV does disproportionately affect young women – more than 4 in every 10 new infections in sub-Saharan Africa are in women aged 15-24. It is easier for women, physiologically and biologically, to contract the virus.
How can you prevent HIV spreading?
The main route of transmission in sub-Saharan Africa is through unprotected sex, and therefore the best way to prevent HIV is to abstain from sex or to use a male or female condom during sex. Abstinence for many is an unrealistic option, and so safe sex using a barrier method such as a condom is an essential component of the fight against HIV. Transmission to a child is mainly through the mother. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission includes regular treatment and hygienic delivery practices. Outside of Africa, intravenous drug users sharing equipment is a common way to transmit the virus.