HIV and AIDS are still major global health issues facing millions of people around the World. In fact, it is estimated that over 40 million people around the World are currently living with HIV and since the start of the epidemic in the early 1980’s an estimated 75 million people have become infected with HIV, and that over 35 million people have died.

HIV is much more prevalent in particular parts of the World and has much more significant consequences, especially in resource poor settings where access to testing, treatment and prevention tools is not readily available.

1 in 5 people don't know that they have HIV. See avert.org for more information.

37.9 million people are living with HIV globally. 21% don't know their status

In relation to Australia, it is estimated that over 30,000 people are currently living with HIV. The number of HIV notifications in Australia has remained steady over the past 5 years, with around 1,000 people per year. In Victoria there were 284 notifications in 2019. 

Many great medical advances have been made over the course of the epidemic and it is no longer like it was in the 1980s, where contracting HIV was considered to be a death sentence. Access to treatment opportunities has improved the health outcomes of people living with HIV quite significantly.

Despite the great medical treatment advances that we have made, people who have an untreated HIV infection can still progress to having an AIDS defining illness. Whilst very few people in Australia progress from an HIV infection to an AIDS defining illness, it is important to note that HIV and AIDS are not over and that we are still without a cure or a vaccine.

More than 30,000 living with HIV

So what is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that weakens the immune system. It attacks and takes over the immune cells, using them to reproduce itself and go on to then infect more immune cells. HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS. You cannot contract AIDS, you contract HIV.

So what is AIDS?

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is not a single disease. It is a diagnosis that results from a spectrum of conditions that can occur when a person’s immune system is seriously damaged after years of attack by HIV. The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable, but it is possible to move in and out of an AIDS diagnosis. It is important to remember that a person who is infected with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. However, all people with AIDS have HIV.

HIV damages the body’s immune system and renders the body vulnerable to other diseases and infections – its symptoms are most commonly similar to those of any chronic viral infection. During advanced stages of HIV infection, a person may develop any of a number of opportunistic infections considered to be AIDS defining illnesses.