HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, attacks and destroys white blood cells in the immune system, whose job is to help our body fight against illness and disease. While it destroys the cells, it also makes copies of itself inside those cells and therefore gradually weakens a person’s immune system. When someone contracts HIV and doesn’t take medication for it, over time their bodies will have more difficulty fighting off simple infections and illnesses. Yet, it takes about 15 years for the immune system to be so severely damaged that the disease will progress to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and the body is not able to fight off any infections or illnesses anymore. It is the latest stage of the disease and if left untreated will lead to death.
It can be transmitted through blood, semen vaginal and anal fluids and breastmilk but it cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine. The safest way to protect from HIV is to have protected sex with condoms. To this day, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS but there is ART, short for antiretroviral therapy, which significantly slows down the infection rate of the virus and can dramatically increase a person’s life span and lower their chance of infecting others. (https://www.avert.org/about-hiv-aids/what-hiv-aids, n.d.)
“In 2017 an estimated 36.9 million people in were living with HIV” (https://www.avert.org/global-hiv-and-aids-statistics, n.d.) around the whole world and around 25% of those people are not aware of their situation. Southern and East Africa are hit hardest with the infections of HIV with about 19.6 million infected people, which is more than half of the global infections. There are about 800,000 new infections per year and about 380,000 AIDS related deaths. Therefore, AIDS remains high on the list of all reported causes of death in Southern and East Africa. (https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/overview, n.d.)
In Malawi, a low-income country in Southern Africa, about 12% of the population lives with HIV which is about one million people. And more than one million children are orphaned due to AIDS, which leaves the children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Malawi is one of the countries that has the highest infection rate in the world, with about 50% of new infections affecting those between 15 and 17 years old. AIDS is the number one leading cause of death in Malawi, with about 27.1% of all reported deaths due to the virus. Moreover, “the Malawian HIV epidemic plays a critical role in the country’s low life expectancy of just 57 years for men and 60 for women”.(https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/malawi, n.d.) And even though, there has been a great effort in improving peoples life’s by making condoms and antiretroviral therapy easier accessible, the numbers have not decreased as much as the government of Malawi wishes.
The affected groups in Malawi are mostly generalized, the same as around the globe. Heterosexual couples who have unprotected sex, adolescent girls, young women and homosexual men. Children are also affected but not as highly as the other affected groups. They easily get infected when their mother gives birth or from breastfeeding.
Women are more susceptible to the disease than men, with the HIV prevalence among women being three times higher than among men. This could be due to that men who are circumcised have a lower infection rate than women. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-aids-circumcision-idUSTRE56F7BG20090716, n.d.) or that women are more likely to be subject to sexual violence, with about 22% of women in Malawi reporting that they have “experienced sexual violence before the age of 18”. (https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/malawi, n.d.) Furthermore, young women are often married before the age of 18 with usually much older men, who often already had several sex partners, which highly increases their chance of having unknowingly contracted HIV. However, Malawi tried to deal with this issue by raising the legal minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 in 2017.
Homosexual men are one of the key affected populations in Malawi to contract the virus. “Neary one in five men who have sex with men are living with HIV” (https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/malawi, n.d.). The prevalence of HIV tends to be higher in older men, but 12% of young men who have sex with men, are already living with the virus.