The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted through blood and body fluids and gradually breaks down the immune system – usually over a three- to 15-year period, most commonly 10 years – leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. As immunodeficiency progresses, people begin to suffer from opportunistic infections. The most common opportunistic infection that often leads to death is tuberculosis.
Simple blood tests can confirm HIV status, but many people live for years without symptoms and may not know they have been infected. Combinations of drugs known as antiretrovirals (ARVs) help combat the virus and enable people to live longer, healthier lives without their immune systems deteriorating rapidly. ARVs also significantly reduce the likelihood of the virus being transmitted.
As well as treatment, MSF’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS programmes generally include health promotion and awareness activities, condom distribution, HIV testing, counselling, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services. PMTCT involves the administration of ARV treatment to the mother during and after pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding, and to the infant just after birth.
MSF provided 176,600 patients with first-line or second-line ARV treatment in 2017.