In the world, there are about 36.7 million people living with HIV, the AIDS virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In Brazil, there are approximately 718 thousand cases. That is why in December 1st we celebrate the World AIDS Day. The date, created by WHO in partnership with the United Nations (UN), aims to inform about the ways of preventing the disease as well as raising awareness of the population on prejudice and stigmas that people living HIV have to cope.
The number of AIDS cases has been falling in recent years. In Brazil, the proportion of new cases in relation to the total population fell by 5.5% in one year, according to data from the Epidemiological Bulletin on HIV and AIDS of 2015 in the country. The number of deaths caused by the disease has also been declining: it decreased 26% in the last five years, due to the fact that 17 million people worldwide are receiving antiretroviral treatment, according to the report of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
But the numbers of the disease are still alarming. In Brazil alone, the number of AIDS-related deaths was estimated at 15,000 by UNAIDS in 2015. In addition, disinformation is another major challenge when talking about the disease: of the total number of Brazilians living with AIDS, the Ministry of Health projects that around 20% do not know they have the disease. This data shows how much information and prevention are important so that more people do not contract and transmit the disease.
Living with the disease
AIDS has no cure, but with the advancement of medicine and technology, it can be treated with drugs, thus considerably increasing the patient's survival and quality of life.
Brazil has today one of the highest coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) among low- and middle-income countries, with more than half (64%) of people living with HIV receiving ART, according to data from the Ministry of Health. ART prevents HIV from multiplying in the body. If the reproduction of HIV stops, then the body's immune cells are able to live longer and protect the body against infections. “The treatment aims to keep the viral load (in a simple way, the amount of virus in the patient's body) low. Periodic examinations allow verifying if the viral load remains low or if it has increased; in the latter case, the tests can also identify mutations in the virus and, as a consequence, which treatment changes should be made”, explains Eloisa Moreira, clinical research manager at Evidências - Kantar Health.
In addition to efforts to implant the use of ART, screening actions are crucial to starting treatment at the most favorable time. Encouraging diagnosis and early initiation of treatment, even before the onset of the first symptoms of the disease, reflects in reducing mortality and HIV morbidity. “It is important to do periodic examinations not only for the diagnosis, but also during the treatment of the disease”, emphasizes Moreira.