The Inconvenient Truth of HIV

Although HIV often remains a taboo subject in many countries worldwide, the disease still holds high importance in the medical world. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, HIV/Aids is the 6th deadliest disease that plagues our planet, with the disease brutally taking the lives of around 35 million people since the beginning of the epidemic in 1981.

When scientists and researchers discuss the origins and factors of HIV, they refer to the disease in two types: HIV-1 and HIV-2. With recent evidence and enhances of technology in today’s society, we are able to confirm that HIV-1 is the more aggressive strain of the disease and is responsible for the vast majority of worldwide infections. It is thought that a certain group of HIV-1 (group M) has caused over 90% of infections and can evidently be related to the SIV epidemic in wild ape populations, which was prevalent in the African rain forests during the 1920’s.

However, even though HIV-1 group M is the most devastating strain of the disease, it seems that it carries no more beneficial factors than other strains – it just took advantage of rapid urbanisation and change in industry. Indeed, a huge advancement occurred in the city of Kinshasa (the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo) during the 20th century and this is where scientists think the deadly disease emerged. Moreover, our knowledge about the spread of HIV can be associated with the sex industry of Congo at that time, as well as the rail network used by hundreds of thousands of people each year. Both of these factors justify why the expanse of the disease has been so great.

With the origin of HIV clarified, it is now important to explore the differences between Africa and the UK, in respect to accessible drugs and healthcare opportunities. What really stands out is that there were 270,000 new HIV infections in South Africa in 2016; however, only 56% of adults received antiretroviral treatment. Comparing these figures to those of the UK, the majority of people will be shocked by the difference. In 2015, the UK acquired 6,095 new HIV infections (a value, which is more than 40 times smaller) and 96% of adults received antiretroviral treatment. Antiretroviral treatment can be very expensive, however it reduces the risk of spread by almost 97% and that is why many people believe it is so vital to introduce these drugs in a wide range of countries. Indeed, South Africa are making huge improvements in their healthcare system and approaches and this is evident in the number of people living healthier and happier lives.

Even though, antiretroviral drugs have been extremely significant in the medical world, the medication doesn’t actually kill HIV, instead it stops the virus from replicating and spreading. HIV inserts its DNA into host cells and replicates but may not show any clinical signs or symptoms, resulting in many people being unaware that they are HIV-positive. Instead there is a potentially long dormant period where it ‘hides’ in large reservoirs of cells in the immune system.

However, scientists and researchers from UCLA, Stanford University and the National Institutes of Health may have developed a solution. The ‘kick and kill’ technique involves using a synthetic molecule to ‘wake up’ the dormant virus, which hides in white blood cells and therefore trigger the virus to replicate. The immune system will also be stimulated so that it can identify the virus and this replication causes either the immune system or the virus itself to kill the cells concealing HIV. This method has been tested on lab animals, including mice and has proved successful in killing up to 25% of cells expressing HIV, which is an important step forward in improving the lives of millions around the world.

I would like to end on quite a hard-hitting note. In the time that you have taken to read this article today, 3 more children in the world will have contracted HIV. The inconvenient truth is that this epidemic is killing our future generation and requires action now.

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