HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus which causes the illness AIDS. AIDS is thought to have originated in Africa, where monkeys and apes harbor a virus similar to HIV called SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus). Scientists believe the illness first jumped to humans from wild chimpanzees in central Africa.
How the disease crossed the species barrier remains a puzzle. The leading theory is that it was picked up by people who hunted or ate infected chimpanzees.
Today the virus is spread through the following ways:
- Exchange of bodily fluids during sexual intercourse
- Contaminated needles in intravenous drug use (IDU)
- Contaminated blood transfusions
- From mother to child during pregnancy
At the end of 2010, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV globally, including 3.4 million children less than 15 years. There were 2.7 million new HIV infections in 2010, including 390 000 among children less than 15 years.
HIV disproportionately affects sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs across the world.
As a result of their lower economic and socio-cultural status in many countries, women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV.
Globally, the annual number of people newly infected with HIV continues to decline, although there is stark regional variation. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the people newly infected with HIV live, an estimated 1.9 million people became infected in 2010. This was 16% fewer than the estimated 2.2 million people newly infected with HIV in 2001 and 27% fewer than the annual number of people newly infected between 1996 and 1998, when the incidence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa peaked overall.
The annual number of people dying from AIDS-related causes worldwide is steadily decreasing from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005 to an estimated 1.8 million in 2010. The number of people dying from AIDS-related causes began to decline in 2005–2006 in sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-East Asia and the Caribbean and has continued subsequently. In 2010, an estimated 250 000 children less than 15 died from AIDS-related causes, 20% fewer than in 2005.
Not all regions and countries fit the overall trends, however. The annual number of people newly infected with HIV has risen in the Middle East and North Africa from 43 000 in 2001 to 59 000in 2010. After slowing drastically in the early 2000s, the incidence of HIV infection in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has been accelerating again since 2008.
The trends in AIDS-related deaths also differ. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes increased more than 10-fold between 2001 and 2010 (from about 7800 to 90 000). In the same period, the number of people dying from AIDS-related caused increased by 60% in the Middle East and North Africa (from 22 000 to 35 000) and more than doubled in East Asia to 56 000. Introducing antiretroviral therapy has averted 2.5 million deaths in low-and middle-income countries globally since 1995. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the vast majority of the averted deaths: about 1.8 million.
In spite of the decrease of the number of people infected or dying, the southern Africa sub region continues to experience the most severe HIV epidemics in the world. One third (34%) of all people living with HIV globally in 2009 resided in the 10 countries in southern Africa. 31% of the people newly infected with HIV and 34% of all the people dying from AIDS-related causes in the same year lived in these 10 countries. Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In some African countries it is estimated that 40% of the working-age population has contracted HIV. However, this is never uniform across a population; 40% of a whole African country will mean there are areas where virtually everyone has contracted HIV / AIDS. The worst affected countries include Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. In places like these, village after village has no young adults left.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to bear a disproportionate share of the global HIV burden. In mid-2010, about 68% of all people living with HIV resided in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with only 12% of the global population More women than men in sub-Saharan Africa are livingwith HIV; in 2010, women comprised 59% of the people living with HIV in that region.
Causes of the HIV epidemics in Africa
- Poverty and the prohibitive cost of AIDS drugs and treatment increases the transmission of HIV
- Unsafe sexual practices
- Poor education systems, lack of knowledge of the disease, and aversion to discussing the transmission of the disease help to increase the transmission of HIV
- Not enough political attention paid to HIV/AIDS in Africa
- Inadequate health care systems
- Due to an insufficient supply of antiretroviral drugs and health care providers in 2010, only 5 of the 10 million HIV-positive patients in Africa were able to receive treatment.
- War leads to breakdown in Services
However, the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes began to decline in the mid-2000s because of scaled up access to antiretroviral therapy and the steady decline in HIV incidence since the peak of the epidemic in 1997. In 2011, there were 33% fewer AIDS-related deaths in Africa than in 2005.
The real impact of AIDS is much greater than the estimated prevalence rates. For every person living with AIDS, at least six other lives are directly affected. In sub-Saharan Africa, the 22 million who are living with HIV and AIDS translates to an overall impact on nearly one-fifth of the population.