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Here are explanations for a few keywords and abbreviations that you may come across when reading about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). These words are key concepts of HIV/AIDS and are vital in understanding the disease, as well as its causes and effects.

Opportunistic Infections (OI)

Opportunistic Infections are caused by pathogens which do not harm humans with healthy immune systems. When an immune system is compromised, as it is with the infection of AIDS, it provides an environment in which these pathogens may infect and cause disease in the human. Although some infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and shingles cause a slight depression of the immune system, there are only a limited number of diseases--including AIDS and leukemia--that severely and detrimentally compromise the immune system.


HIV weakens the body by attacking cells in the human immune system, specifically CD4 T cells. CD4 cells are a type of Helper T cell that are essential in protecting your body against invading pathogens and keeping your body healthy. Although a healthy body has over 500 healthy CD4 cells, HIV decreases the number of CD4 cells and makes the body increasingly susceptible to opportunistic infections. When the number reaches a critical level (under 200 CD4 cells) the patient is said to have AIDS. Thus, patients are able to monitor the severity of their disease by keeping track of their CD4 count.

Antiretroviral Drugs (ARV)

Antiretroviral drugs are the most effective treatment against HIV/AIDS patients, and consists of treatment which suppresses the opportunistic infections caused by AIDS as well as treatment which is designed to stop HIV from destroying immune cells. By decreasing the viral load, or the amount of retrovirus present in the body, antiretroviral drugs decrease symptoms of the virus. However, this does not mean that the virus has disappeared, ands symptoms will return quickly after treatment is terminated.

Generic Drugs

Generic drugs are drugs which are not protected by a patent. When a medication is first developed, the developer is awarded a patent which bans other manufacturers from developing the same drug. This protects the medication under a specific brand name, and no other forms of this medicine can be sold on the market. However, once this patent expires, the medication becomes generic, meaning the medication can be manufactured by different companies and sold over-the-counter. Until 1996, because the patent system was different in more developed countries, generic drugs were able to circulate the markets of less developed countries, as domestic manufacturers were permitted to produce these drugs at a lower cost once the patent had expired. This enabled people in less developed countries greater access to medications at a cheaper price than in developed countries such as the USA. However, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of 1996 globalized the patent system, expanding patent and intellectual property rights and restricting the manufacture of generic medicines. Because developing countries are no longer able to manufacture generic medicines domestically and at a lower cost, since then it has become much more difficult for people living in developing countries to access medications.

Drug Resistant Strains

HIV is extremely susceptive to mutations and is very resilient. Therefore, if treatment is inconsistent or if the combination of drugs is less effective, it will quickly become resistant to the medication and continue to weaken the immune system. Especially in developing countries, where it is difficult to get a hold of treatment because of their economic standpoint, patients are frequently forced to discontinue their medication, causing the HIV to become resistant. This has very serious repercussions, as the drug-resistant HIV is much harder to treat and will most likely lead to death.

Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM)

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was created in 2002 to help fight three of the most widespread and devastating diseases in the world--AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Since its conception, GFATM has worked not only on AIDS prevention, but also on treatment and care for HIV-positive patients. Its primary goal is to strengthen health systems in developing countries, and has implemented countless different programs through the Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMs) of each participating country. These CCMs are the country-based conferences that make proposals to the Global Fund, and are composed of representatives of each society including those who are infected with AIDS, Malaria, or Tuberculosis.

3 by 5

The "3 by 5" initiative, launched by UNAIDS and WHO in December 2003, called for the increase of HIV/AIDS treatment within developing countries. This initiative promised to provide three million people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries with antiretroviral treatment by 2005. This initiative created a standard for basic medical treatment in developing countries and encouraged the use of generic medications, boosting the spirit of many HIV/AIDS patients living in middle-and low-income countries.

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