The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their function. As the infection progresses, the immune system becomes weaker, and the person becomes more susceptible to infections. The most advanced stage of HIV infection is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It can take 10-15 years for an HIV-infected person to develop AIDS; antiretroviral drugs can slow down the process even further.
HIV is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal), transfusion of contaminated blood, sharing of contaminated needles, and between a mother and her infant during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
How to control:
Making universal access a reality
WHO HIV/AIDS Programme staff collaborate with other UN Agencies, Ministries of Health, development agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), health services providers, health-care institutions, people living with HIV and other partners. The aim is to strengthen all aspects of the health sector in order to deliver much-needed HIV services. Working with six regional offices and 193 countries, WHO provides technical support and develops evidence-based norms and standards that will help transform the goal of universal access into a reality.
Five strategic directions
Recent estimates indicate that the health sector alone represents at least 55% of the resources required for the global response to HIV/AIDS. In order to better target much-needed interventions, the WHO HIV/AIDS Programme focuses on five strategic directions:
- Enable people to know their HIV status;
- Maximize the health sector’s contribution to HIV prevention;
- Accelerate the scale-up of HIV treatment and care;
- Strengthen and expand health systems;
- Invest in strategic information to better inform the HIV response.
A public health approach
The WHO HIV/AIDS Programme promotes a public health approach to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. This means working with countries to develop and implement simplified guidelines, to decentralize services, and to delegate tasks to less specialized health workers. In other words, the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
The WHO HIV/AIDS Department refers specifically to the unit dedicated to working with HIV/AIDS as opposed to the ‘Programme’ which refers to all WHO HIV-related work both at headquarters, regions and countries.