HIV is a virus that gradually attacks the immune system, therefore, weakening a person immunity levels.
According to a 2014 UNAIDS Gap Report, 1.6 million people in Kenya were living with HIV in the year 2014. As a result, Kenya had the fourth largest HIV epidemic in the world. It was estimated that 58,000 people died of HIV-related illnesses in the same year. The first case of HIV was detected in Kenya in the year 1984 and by the mid-1990s was the major cause of mortality putting huge demands on the health care system and the economy. With recent studies, HIV prevalence has been seen among certain types of groups.
These are referred to as vulnerable groups and include:
• Men who have sex with men (MSM) HIV prevalence among this group is estimated to be three times that found in the general population
• People who inject drugs (PWID). Because most drug users share the same syringe they are most likely to receive the infection or infect others if they are already infected.
• Sex workers. Due to the nature of the work that they do they are at high risk of being infected or contracting the infection.
• Women. Although the general rate of prevalence has fallen women still remain to be greatly affected particularly in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Women in these places have for a long time faced discrimination in education, employment, and healthcare. As a result, even, sex is a male dominated territory with the women having no say even when they know the risks involved.
The image on the left shows a structure of an HIV virus.
There are two types of HIV. This is because the virus has the ability to undergo mutation, therefore, change its structures as a way of adaptation. This mutation ability greatly hinders the efforts for finding a cure to this global pandemic.
• HIV 1-The most common type worldwide
• HIV 2-found mostly in West Africa
In the southern Sahara region, the most prevalent type of HIV is HIV type 1.
How HIV attacks the body
HIV attacks the T lymphocytes also known as T-cells which play a major role in the bodies immunity. The HIV virus attaches itself the receptor cells of the T-cells whereby it fits like a key and lock system. This way it is able to pry itself into the cell through a number of chemical processes and eventually destroy it from within. By depending on the host cell it is able to replicate itself producing identical copies of itself that further go to attack and destroy other T-cells in the body thus lowering immunity. The lower a person's CD4 count(amount of T-Cells in the body) goes the more vulnerable they become to infections.
Stages of infection
There are broadly three stages of the infection:
Acute HIV infection
It is the earliest stage of infection that develops within 2-4 weeks of infection. A person may experience flu-like symptoms. In this stage, the virus multiplies rapidly attacking CD4 cells. Also, the risk of transmission is highest during this phase.
Chronic HIV infection
Also called asymptomatic or clinical latency phase. The virus continues to multiply but at low levels. The victim may not have any symptoms at this stage. However, they can still spread it to other people. Without treatment, HIV advances to AIDS in 10 to 12 years or more.
This is the final stage whereby the body's immunity has really been weakened and cannot fight off opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia among others. Without treatment people at this stage usually, have fewer chances of surviving beyond three years.
Symptoms can include:
• Rapid weight loss
• Rashes that may appear on different parts of the body
• Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
• Extreme and unexplained tiredness
• Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
Patient with swollen lymph glands under armpit
• Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
• Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
• Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
• Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.
• Nail changes such as thickening, curving, splitting, discoloring of the nails
• Menstrual irregularities
How it is spread
• Direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk
• During sexual intercourse
• During a blood transfusion
• Sharing of sharp objects that could lead to cutting wounds and thus transferring the disease from one person to another
HIV diagnosis is done by health specialists that have been trained and certified. In Kenya, it is done in any hospitals, clinics or VCT centers. In the year 200 there were only three VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) but by 2010 there were over 4000. In the year 2008 an estimate of 860,000 people went for HIV testing and by 2013 the year increased to 6.4 million.There are also programs that hire specialists to go and test people in their homes. This is referred to as home-based testing and counselling (HBT). This is particularly common in slum areas where the programs are sponsored. Upon testing and you turn out to be HIV positive a person is enrolled in a treatment program. According to the Centre for Disease Control, It is working hand in hand with the Kenya Medical Research Institute to conduct research on the expansion of antiretroviral services by providing proper care testing of CD4 count and HIV viral load which are the two important test for caring for people living with HIV. They are also looking towards improving early infant diagnosis techniques.
HIV is treated using a number of combination of drugs known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) It is not a cure but a way of managing the virus. They prevent the virus from multiplying, therefore, reducing the number of viruses in the blood. As a result, the body's immunity becomes strong enough to fight off diseases and other infections.
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