AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is one of the greatest medical and social challenges that the world has had to face. While progress has been made in the medical and social treatments of AIDS, the solutions are expensive. Sadly many parts of the world, particularly Sub - Saharan Africa, continue to suffer from the epidemic spread of AIDS. Economically these countries cannot afford to pay for the best of care; therefore the dilemma exists as to whether the developed world is obliged to subsidize the treatment of AIDS for these people.
AIDS is the most advanced stage of infection from HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Normally when our bodies are attacked by a virus, our immune system, in particular our white bloods cells are triggered by T-cells to attack the invading virus by the creation of antibodies. However in the case of HIV, this virus actually targets the white blood cells. They enter the cell and use the cell's resources to create many replicas of the virus. Eventually the virus kills the existing cell, releasing thousands of more copies of the virus.
As the infection spreads and our white bloods cells are destroyed, our overall immune system weakens. This leaves us vulnerable to opportunistic infections, such as; Candidiasis of bronchi, trachea, or lungs, Lymphoma, Salmonella septicemia diseases that our body would normally be able to fend off. A patient develops AIDS by definition when they are; HIV +, they have at least one opportunistic infection and their CD4 count is less than 200 cells/mm³ of blood (a normal count is 500 - 1500).
HIV can only be transmitted between people through the direct contact of bodily fluids. The two primary methods of transmission are as a result of unprotected sexual activity and during childbirth.
In the 1980's when AIDS became well known to the public it was as a result of the spread of infection in the homosexual community. This was due to frequent occurrences of unprotected sex between partners and the high incidence of multiple partners. This condition caused panic in the homosexual community. This behaviour driven transmission is also common amongst male migrant workers in Sub - Saharan Africa. Men leave their families to find work and during that time often contract HIV through unprotected sex with local women. Then it is common for the men to return home and infect their wives or other relatives.
Tragically the other common mode of transmission is between mother and child. This occurs in Sub - Saharan Africa when HIV+ mothers infect their babies during childbirth as they become exposed to the mother's blood. The fetus is not infected in the uterus as it is protected by the placenta barrier between its blood and the mother's. In recent years there has been great focus and progress in preventing this method of transmission. It is now possible for an HIV + mother to give birth to an uninfected baby.