HINT does not currently run any permanent health awareness centers. Instead, for many years we have regularly organized health awareness seminars run by volunteers with knowledge of medical concerns. Although most of our programs have focused on combating HIV/AIDS, we are open to seminars covering any important health topics, from nutrition and healthy living to the prevention of diseases such as malaria, typhoid, etc. If you are a medical student or professional interested in running a short- or long-term seminar on any of these issues, we would love to organize a medical outreach program with you. Please contact us to discuss how we can work with you or your organization to better the health of our community here in Buea.
HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention
As noted, we have been involved extensively in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS for several years. Dozens of community leaders have been trained as HIV Educators through our free seminars. The training is targeted at equipping them to become effective HIV Educators within their communities.
Please enjoy these pictures of some previous training exercises in Buea:
HIV/AIDS Information: What You Need to Know
It is estimated that 5.4% of the population of Cameroon is HIV positive. That represents approximately 510,000 people, 43,000 of which are children. 240,000 children are orphaned in Cameroon due to AIDS.
As part of our campaign of awareness, we have dedicated this section of our website to information on HIV and AIDS. We hope to provide a basic overview of the disease. There are many myths surrounding HIV and AIDS, so look for the “Myth Buster” to dispel common misinformation.
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a virus. Viruses are tiny germs that infect cells of living organisms such as humans. The virus then replicates (makes copies of itself) inside the cells and spreads throughout the body. A virus can damage the cells in which it replicates, causing the infected person to become unwell.
HIV means: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
- Human – only affects humans
- Immunodeficiency – immune system (the part of you body which fights infections) is deficient (meaning it will not work properly)
- Virus – tiny germ that spreads
Once a person is infected with HIV, the virus will live in his or her body, meaning that the person is now HIV positive. HIV attacks a person’s immune system. The immune system usually protects the body from infection, attacking and killing viruses and bacteria. The reason HIV is so dangerous is because it attacks the immune system and the immune system is unable to protect itself. HIV replicates rapidly which means that once it is in the body the immune system is unable to get rid of it.
The person’s immune system has now been irreparably damaged by HIV. This means that the immune system is unable to fight off other infections and diseases. A person infected with HIV will become unwell more frequently and will become weak. Once a person with HIV starts to become frequently and severely unwell, they are then said to have AIDS.
AIDS means: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
- Acquired – Not born with but received from something else
- Immunodeficiency – immune system (the part of you body which fights infections) is deficient (meaning it will not work properly)
- Syndrome – group of signs or symptoms
When a person has AIDS they have very little immune system left to fight disease. They will become very ill possibly with multiple diseases. The body is unable to protect itself. One of these diseases will cause that person to die. It is impossible to determine how long it will take for AIDS to develop once infected with HIV. Sometimes it is only a matter of months while in other instances it could be years.
There are a few scientists who believe that there is no link between HIV and AIDS. South Africa’s president, Mr. Mbeki. once even said that he believed there was no link between HIV and AIDS. He has since changed his mind. The United Nations AIDS Agency (UNAIDS) says the evidence that HIV is the underlying cause of AIDS is ‘irrefutable.’ HIV identified as the source of what came to be defined as AIDS in 1983/84 though in-depth scientific research. For more information and evidence see http://www.avert.org/evidence.htm outlining the evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV on the Avert AIDS charity website.
Where did it come from?
There are many theories surrounding the origins of HIV. Below is a brief overview. For more in-depth detail, see http://www.avert.org/origins.htm outlining the origins of HIV on the Avert AIDS charity website.
The origin of HIV puzzled scientists for nearly 30 years after the first case was discovered. The first case of HIV was diagnosed in America in 1981. However, evidence suggests that HIV has existed longer than this. The earliest sample of HIV was taken from tissue samples from 1959 of a man who lived in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is generally thought that HIV is related to SIV, Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, a virus that is found in monkeys and chimpanzees. It seems that at some point the virus crossed over from chimpanzees to humans. This causes debate. The most accepted theory is the “hunter theory,” which postulates that when hunters killed and prepared chimpanzee for eating, the blood of infected chimpanzees entered the hunter though cuts and wounds. When SIV entered the body, it mutated and adapted to the human host, becoming HIV.
There many myths surrounding the origin of HIV, some of which are listed below:
- UFO crashes on Earth releasing deadly virus;
- A product of American biological weapons testing;
- Israel and South Africa created HIV as an ethnic weapon to use against whites;
- Contaminated polio, tetanus and hepatitis vaccines;
- The result of humans fornicating with chimpanzees;
- Deliberately spread in Africa through smallpox eradication vaccine program conducted by World Health Organisation in the 1970’s;
- Sent as a punishment from God;
- A “scare story” fabricated by Europe/America as a method of birth control.
None of the statements in the above list are true.
How do you get HIV?
For a person to become infected with HIV they need to be exposed to the virus so that the virus can enter their body. HIV is spread through bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk, and sexual fluids. HIV is spread through sexual relationships, from a mother to her child, or by blood contact.
Both men and women are able to become infected by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Women are at greater risk due to their anatomy. There is also a risk of transmission when having oral sex. This is increased if a person has cuts, ulcers, or bleeding gums in their mouth.
A mother can pass HIV to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breast feeding. The chance of a mother passing HIV on to her child is about 30%. If the mother is newly infected with HIV then the risk of transmission during breastfeeding is increased.
HIV transmission through blood contact can happen in a variety of ways: through a blood transfusion, the use of dirty equipment, or by blood passing through a cut in your skin. Even if equipment such as razor blades or needles look clean, they can still carry HIV. Tools must be cleaned thoroughly (sterilized) between each user. See the section on prevention for more information on how to clean equipment.
HIV cannot be transmitted through:
- social contact, touching, etc.;
- living with someone with HIV;
- sharing plates, cups, cutlery, etc.;
- shared clothing;
- sharing food;
- shaking hands;
- toilets/washing facilities;
- swimming in a pool or river;
- insect bites;
- living with a person with HIV.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
A person with HIV will have no symptoms. You cannot tell if a person has HIV by looking at him/her. The only way to diagnose HIV is through a blood test. After a person becomes infected with HIV they will feel fine for a long time. Once the virus begins to break down the immune system then the person will begin to feel unwell and weak. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for the immune system to begin to fail. These initial symptoms could easily be confused with many other illnesses. The feeling of weakness will happen more often over time and become increasingly worse because the immune system is gradually becoming more damaged. As the body gets weaker more symptoms develop, such as:
- unexplained loss of weight lasting at least one month;
- diarrhea lasting for several weeks;
- a white coating on the tongue (thrush/oral candidiasis);
- enlarged, swollen, or sore glands (lymph nodes) in the neck, armpits, and/or groin;
- a cough that persists for more than one month;
- persistent fever and/or night sweats;
- in women, persistent vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection).
After this stage opportunistic infections will develop. These are infections that develop because the immune system cannot fight them. AIDS is the later stage of HIV infection. A person is said to have AIDS when they have one or more opportunistic infections. AIDS develops in different ways in different people. Those with AIDS have serious, life threatening illness which may start suddenly or develop slowly. A person with AIDS generally loses weight (wasting syndrome) and becomes ill with opportunistic infections including:
- severe diarrhea;
- skin cancer (called Kaposi sarcoma);
- rapid weight loss;
- toxoplasmosis(a form of parasite);
- neurological problems (forgetfulness, clumsiness, confusion);
- cytomegalovirus (eye infection).
One infection will eventually cause death. The time between becoming infected with HIV and death is impossible to predict, as it differs for every individual.
Many people may believe that HIV/AIDS does not exist. This is not true: HIV/AIDS exists, and it kills. The reason for this misconception may be because HIV has no symptoms. People feel they cannot be infected as they don’t feel unwell. How can this virus kill them if they feel strong? The problem with HIV is that it is silently destroying the immune system. A person is not aware of this until it is too late.
Another reason that people may feel AIDS does not exist is because there is no pattern to it. When a person dies of AIDS it is the opportunistic infection that actually kills them. There are a variety of these infections, as listed above. This means that two people living in the same village can have very different diseases but both have AIDS.
Is there a cure for HIV?
The short answer is no. There is no cure for HIV, no vaccine. Scientists are working to try and find one but as yet they have not been successful. However, there are drugs available called antiretrovirals. These are drugs that suppress HIV and stop it from destroying the immune system as quickly as it would otherwise. A person still has HIV when they are taking these drugs and can still pass HIV on to others, as the antiretrovirals only slow the process of HIV. Another way to help a person with HIV is to keep them healthy for as long as possible. A good diet is essential and will help keep the immune system stronger for longer. Opportunistic infection can be treated with antibiotics or other appropriate drugs depending on the infection. There are also drugs available which will reduce the risk of transmission from mother to child, ask at your local health centre or hospital.
People with HIV need support from others. Do not reject people with HIV, accept them. There should be no stigma attached to HIV.
Some people believe a particular diet or food can cure you. There is nothing that can cure AIDS, no certain food, or diet, or vaccine. A healthy balanced diet is important in trying to slow the spread of the disease but it will not cure it.
How can you protect yourself from HIV?
Prevention is the key to stopping the spread if HIV. There are three ways of transmitting HIV. Each manner of transmission can be prevented.
1. Sexual relations
Follow a simple ABC approach.
- Be Faithful
Abstaining from sexual activity is the most effective way to protect yourself from HIV. It is your body and your life: do not have a sexual relationship with anyone unless you choose to. Avoid having sexual relations with anyone before you are married, save yourself for your life partner. Once you have formed a life-long relationship, do not break it. Be faithful to one partner and do not put yourself or your partner at risk. Use condoms correctly and use them every single time that you have sex. Condoms not only protect you from HIV but also from other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
2. Mother to child transmission
The risk of mother to child transmission is at it highest if the mother is newly infected. If you discover you are pregnant it is important to take every care to avoid risk of infection. There are drugs available that can reduce the risk of a mother passing the the HIV infection to her child. Ask about these drugs at your local health centre or hospital.
3. Blood contact
If you have cuts on your skin, especially your hands, be careful. Do not touch any blood, do not perform any activities that involve cutting into skin, and do not touch instruments that have been used for cutting skin.
Any equipment that cuts skin needs to be sterilized between each use, such as a barber’s razor blades, ear piercing needles, and circumcision tools. To clean the equipment effectively, the item needs to be boiled in water for at least 20 minutes. Alternatively, the item can be soaked for 30 minutes in one of the following.
- Glutaraldehyde 2%
- Rubbing alcohol 70%
- Polyvidone iodine 2%
- Surgical spirit 70%
- Chlorine solution 0.5%
- Hydrogen peroxide 6%
Please note, leaving items of equipment to soak in some of the above solutions for extended periods may cause damage to the item. To avoid this, do not significantly exceed the 30 minute soaking time.
“HIV can get through condoms.” This is not necessarily true. HIV cannot travel through a latex or polyurethane condom.