World AIDS Day highlights the importance of information against the disease

by Otávio Clark | Dec 1, 2016

About 36.7 million people worldwide are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Brazil has approximately 718,000 cases. On December 1, we mark World AIDS Day, which was created by WHO in partnership with the United Nations (UN) to raise awareness on disease prevention as well as fight the prejudice and stigmas that people living with HIV and AIDS have to cope with.

The number of AIDS cases has been declining in recent years. In Brazil, the proportion of new cases in relation to the total population fell by 5.5% in one year, according to data from the 2015 Epidemiological Bulletin on HIV and AIDS. The number of deaths caused by the disease has also been declining: it decreased 26% in the last five years, due to the fact that 17 million people worldwide are receiving antiretroviral treatment, according to the report of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

But the numbers of the disease are still alarming. In Brazil alone, the number of AIDS-related deaths was estimated at 15,000 by UNAIDS in 2015. In addition, misinformation is another major challenge when talking about the disease: of the total number of Brazilians living with AIDS, the Ministry of Health projects that around 20% do not know they have the disease. These data show how important education and prevention are to prevent the transmission of the disease.

Living with the disease

AIDS has no cure, but advancements in medicine and technology have made it treatable, thus considerably increasing the patient's survival and quality of life.

Today, Brazil offers free access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), with 64% of people living with HIV receiving ART, according to data from the Ministry of Health. ART prevents HIV from multiplying in the body. If the reproduction of HIV stops, then the body's immune cells are able to live longer and protect the body against infections.

“The treatment aims to keep the viral load, or the amount of virus in the patient's body, low. Periodic examinations verify whether the viral load remains low or if it has increased; in the latter case, the tests can also identify mutations in the virus and, as a result, which treatment changes should be made,” explains Eloisa Moreira, clinical research manager at Evidências - Kantar Health.

In addition to efforts to implement the use of ART, screening is crucial to starting treatment at the most favorable time. Encouraging diagnosis and early initiation of treatment, even before symptom onset of the disease, reduces mortality and HIV morbidity. “It is important to do periodic examinations not only for the initial diagnosis, but also during the treatment of the disease,” Moreira emphasizes.

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