What is AIDS?

By now there should be very few of us who have managed to escape hearing something about AIDS. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS, is a new global problem, every nation is threatened by it and by the end of 1991 there were about ten million people infected in the world. Six million are thought to be in Africa. Globally, one HIV infection per 250 adults occurs and this is rising. AIDS kills by damaging the body's defences against other diseases. As of 1993, there is no known cure.

The truth is that nobody knows where AIDS came from and we are all potentially at risk, men and women whether heterosexual, gay or lesbian. It is, therefore, everyone's responsibility to try to prevent the spread of AIDS.

The HIV virus is identified by the HIV antibody test. If the test is positive it means that at some time the person has been infected with the virus and the virus has produced antibodies in an attempt to destroy it. Whilst it must be assumed that anybody who is antibody positive is infectious, it does not mean that they have AIDS or will go on to develop AIDS - so far most have not. Although some may develop (AIDS related) illnesses, most stay well. It is not known why some people develop AIDS and others don't.

The virus can be transmitted from an HIV positive woman to her child. About two million infants have already been born to HIV infected women and over 750,000 of these infants have been infected by the virus. Of this number, about a third have died of AIDS and another third have developed severe HIV related illnesses. Increasing numbers of babies are born with the AIDS virus and millions of children will be orphaned by it. The latter is a particular problem in Uganda.

More than 60% of the women infected with HIV have had only one sexual partner - their husbands. In many African societies, it is accepted that men have many sexual partners. If any one of her husband's partners is HIV positive, a woman is vulnerable to infection. Not all children with HIV develop AIDS. However, as the children mature there is a possibility of them passing the disease onto others. AIDS is a serious problem in Uganda. Many of the adults are infected with the HIV virus and many have gone on to develop AIDS and have died. This is a serious problem both for individuals, families and society in Uganda. The graph above indicates the distribution across age ranges of AIDS cases in Uganda. It is interesting to note that there is very little incidences in young people between the ages of 5 and 19 although females between 15 and 19 are six times more likely to have AIDS than boys of the same age. This is because of the 'sugar daddy' syndrome, where older men have sex with younger girls, believing them to be free from the AIDS virus.

The increasing number of adults who are dying from AIDS in Uganda has serious consequences for the country. The banana plantations lie neglected; the fields where matoke, rice and vegetables should be growing in abundance are unattended and thick with weeds. Houses have been boarded up, the owners dead and the children dispersed.


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