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HIV Causes AIDS

Prevent HIV to stop AIDS"HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome - AIDS." 1

But what evidence is there to support the fact that HIV causes AIDS?

Global evidence that HIV causes AIDS

Surveillance statistics

  • As HIV prevalence rises, so does the number of AIDS-related deaths

Both international and national statistics show that AIDS-related deaths began to increase in the 1980s, after a sharp rise in HIV prevalence. There was a time lag of a few years because most people are expected to live with HIV for some time before developing AIDS. 2

  • Preventing new HIV infections reduces the number of AIDS-related deaths

Statistics show that successful HIV prevention efforts have reduced the global number of new HIV infections by 33 percent since their peak in 2001. In turn, this has led to a 30 percent reduction in AIDS-related deaths since their peak in 2005. 3

  • Treating HIV reduces the number of AIDS-related deaths

The number of people living with HIV is increasing due to better access to antiretroviral treatment which improves life quality and expectancy. This has prevented people living with HIV from progressing to AIDS and developing AIDS-related illnesses. There are currently 35.3 million people living with HIV, up from 30 million in 2001. 4

Antiretroviral treatment prevents AIDS

Antiretroviral treatment (ART) manages an HIV infection by hampering the ability of the virus to attack the immune system's T-helper cells. ART kills HIV, reducing the risk of opportunistic infections and preventing the number of T-helper cells (CD4 count) dropping, in turn preventing AIDS.

In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released new recommended guidelines on antiretroviral treatment. They recommend that people start taking ART earlier than before, when their CD4 count is 500 cells/mm3; previously it was 350 cells/mm3. This is due to the wealth of benefits that are seen if people start treatment earlier, including greater success at delaying or eliminating the onset of AIDS. 5

Significant health gains have been noticed where treatment access has improved, especially among populations with high HIV prevalence. For example, in KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa, life expectancy has risen by 11 years since HIV treatment was scaled up in 2003. 6

Untreated HIV leads to AIDS-related morbidity and mortality

An HIV infection will cause a person's health to be compromised if they do not take antiretroviral treatment (ART). Eventually, someone living with HIV who is not taking ART will experience serious health issues and opportunistic infections, leading to AIDS. 7

People who are taking ART, but who do not adhere to it correctly may find that HIV becomes resistant to their treatment, allowing HIV to reproduce and multiply in their body again. 8 This increases the risk of progressing to AIDS, and is evidence of the cause and effect relationship between HIV and AIDS.

For example, only a quarter of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa have achieved viral suppression (where the level of HIV in their body has become undetectable) because of shortfalls in treatment provision or not adhering to their drugs. In 2012, 1.2 million of the 1.6 million AIDS-related deaths that year were in sub-Saharan Africa. 9

Scientific evidence that HIV causes AIDS

  • All people diagnosed with AIDS also test positive for HIV. 10

Antibody testing is a well-established and reliable type of HIV test, and all results are confirmed with follow-up tests to check the blood sample several times. 11 This ensures no-one receives a false positive test result - a confirmatory test result is definitive proof of an HIV infection among those diagnosed with AIDS.

HIV does cause AIDS

Studies have repeatedly shown that HIV antibody testing is a highly effective way of predicting the onset of AIDS; that antiretroviral treatment prevents the onset of AIDS; and that people who avoid exposure to HIV do not get AIDS.

Further information

References

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Page last reviewed: 
01/09/2014
Next review date: 
01/03/2016

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