HIV/AIDS: Basic Facts for Educators

 HIV is a virus. Illnesses caused by a virus cannot be
                cured by antibiotics. (Although medicines may help to reduce the symptoms)
                People who have a virus - such as a cold - usually get better after a few days or
                weeks because the white blood cells of the immune system - which are
                responsible for fighting diseases - successfully overcomes them.
 When a person is infected with HIV, the immune system
                tries to fight off the virus and does make some antibodies, but these
                antibodies are not able to defeat HIV.
 The person is said to be HIV Positive. Many people do not
                feel ill at all when they are first infected. They may have no symptoms for a
                long time. They do not yet have AIDS.
 HIV acts by gradually destroying the immune system of
                the infected person. After about 5 to 10 years (although much earlier in a
                minority of cases) the immune system becomes so weak - or 'deficient'- that
                it cannot fight off infections as it used to. (For reading sources, click here.)

HIV is found in body fluids such as blood, semen,
                vaginal fluids and breastmilk. It is passed from one person to another - or
                transmitted - only in very specific ways. These are:

    *  through sexual intercourse between a man and a woman or between two
    *  through infected blood - for example through contaminated blood
                          transfusions or unsterilised needles and syringes. (In most places
                          today blood transfusions are completely safe because the blood is
                          tested for HIV before it is used to treat patients); and
    *  from an infected mother to her baby while it is still in the womb or
                          during childbirth or during breastfeeding.

 HIV does not spread through "casual" everyday contact
                between people.
 It is not transmitted by coughing, or sneezing, or by
                touching or hugging someone who has the virus.
 It is not spread in air, water or in food, or by sharing
                cups, bowls, cutlery, clothing, or toilet seats.
 And HIV is not transmitted by biting insects such as
                mosquitoes, because the quantity of blood on their mouthparts is too
                minute. (For reading source, click here.)
 Further Resource:

 Eventually the infected [HIV] person may lose weight
                and become ill with diseases like persistent severe diarrhea, fever, or
                pneumonia, or skin cancer. He or she has now developed AIDS.
 At the moment, in spite of much research, there is no
                cure for HIV or for AIDS and so, sadly, it is almost certain that people
                diagnosed with AIDS will die. (For reading sources, click  here.)

The Role of Culture
 Around the world a variety of cultural practices and
                traditions increase young people's risk for HIV/AIDS. For the most part,
                these practices and traditions affect young people more than adults - and
                affect young women even more than young men.

                Women's Status
 In many societies women are expected and taught to
                subordinate their own interests to those of their partners. With such
                expectations, young women often feel powerless to protect themselves
                against HIV infection and unintended pregnancies. Often, adolescent
                girls endure sexual coercion and abuse. In Kenya 40% of sexually active
                female secondary school students said that they have been forced or tricked
                into sex (3). In Cameroon 40% of female adolescents reported that their
                first intercourse was forced (313). Young women sometimes give in to having
                sex for fear that, if they refuse, they will be raped anyway (205).
 Wife abuse is widespread. In some countries more than
                40% of women have been assaulted by their partners (119). Gender-based
                violence is closely linked to HIV/AIDS (220). In Rwanda, for example,
                HIV-positive women with an HIV-positive partner were more likely to report
                sexual coercion in their relationship than were women without HIV (380). In
                Tanzania partner violence was 10 times higher among young HIV-positive
                women than HIV-negative women (220). Many women do not dare even to bring up
                the topic of condoms for protection against HIV infection for fear that they
                will be physically abused (381).

                Marriage Practices
 In many cultures, the premium placed on having
                children often leads to childhood marriage and early childbearing. Girls
                as young as age 10 are given to older men in marriage in order to cement
                friendships and economic ties between families. When girls are married to
                older men, they can be vulnerable to HIV infection because their husbands
                usually have already had a number of sexual partners. Social, political,
                and religious barriers often hide young wives from the world (423), while
                their husbands frequently have other sexual partners (12).
 Polygyny, the practice of a man having multiple wives,
                occurs in some countries. In Africa, when the husband seeks a new, often
                younger, wife, he may have sexual contact with a number of women in the
                process and thus risk bringing HIV home (7, 12, 41). In some cultures, wife
                inheritance is practiced - a tradition in which a wife is given to her
                brother-in-law upon her husband's death. Thus, either partner can be at
                risk of HIV infection if the other is infected. Younger widows are at
                particular risk because they are more likely to seek and be sought by other
                sex partners (6, 277, 321).
 In some societies payment of bridal dowry is necessary
                when a man and woman marry. In parts of Africa the man pays the dowry to the
                woman's family. Once the marriage is sealed with the dowry, the woman is
                considered "paid for" and often cannot leave her husband, should marital
                problems ensue. Even if her husband's behavior places her at risk of HIV
                infection, the woman may not be able to protect herself (119).

                Rites of Passage
 Cultural rites of passage from childhood into
                adulthood, although traditionally serving to unite communities, can
                increase risks for HIV. For example, traditional male or female
                circumcisions are sometimes carried out using unsterilized equipment.
                Researchers think that male circumcision reduces risks for HIV
                transmission by removing part of the foreskin that is particularly
                vulnerable to HIV. In some communities, however, circumcision ceremonies
                often are accompanied by post-initiation sexual experimentation, which
                increases risks for HIV (174, 350). For example, among the Maasai of East
                Africa the relationship among male peers is so close that, after
                circumcision, the initiates share wives and girlfriends.

Faith (for Content):