HIV/AIDS in perspective
Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the advanced form of infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a condition that results in the progressive destruction of the body's immune system and, eventually, death. Transmission of the virus can occur through sexual contact, blood transfusion, sharing of syringes and from mother to child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
HIV/AIDS has become one of the worst pandemics in history. Since the first AIDS cases were identified in 1981, 60 million people have been infected and over 20 million have died. Women of childbearing age are the most vulnerable to sexually transmitted HIV infection and comprise the majority of the 5 million new infections each year. The virus affects the immune system, leaving victims defenceless and open to nerve degeneration, some types of cancer, and opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
The European response
Since the beginning of the epidemic, the European Union has supported HIV/AIDS research and health-related interventions. Under the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development (2002-2006), research on HIV/AIDS is a top priority for the European Union.
At present, the Commission is funding HIV/AIDS research on new drug treatments, microbicides, and vaccines through new collaborative efforts within Europe and with developing countries. About €50 million are allocated each year to finance more than 300 academic and industrial research groups in Europe, including Eastern Countries, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Living with HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS remains one of the most feared of all infections. People with HIV may show no symptoms for up to ten years, but they can still transmit the virus to others. They are often discriminated against, on the one hand based on irrational fears of infection and, on the other, because the infection is wrongly seen as a consequence of promiscuity, homosexuality or drug addiction.
As the disease cannot be cured, health experts around the world urge people to use condoms, the most effective way to prevent HIV infection and transmission.