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AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) a syndrome caused by the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), in which the body's defense system is destroyed resulting in the failure of the body to fight against infection. The syndrome in its final stage is known as AIDS. HIV virus spreads when blood, semen and vaginal fluids of an infected person come in contact with the blood or body fluid, through a breach in the mucous membrane or the skin of another person. Modes of transmission include sexual intercourse; contaminated blood; contaminated needles, syringes and other skin piercing instruments. Vertical transmission from an infected mother to her baby can occur during pregnancy or during delivery or even after birth while nursing.

The first case of AIDS was identified in 1981, in Los Angeles, USA. In 1983 the Pasteur Institute discovered 'AIDS', and a test called the 'HIV test' for detecting the presence of the virus in the body was also developed in the same year. The first case of AIDS in Asia was detected in Thailand in 1984 and by 1986 it had spread to Myanmar and the Indian subcontinent.

In Bangladesh the first case of AIDS was detected in 1989. Till January 2001, seven persons died of AIDS in the country and 150 are carrying HIV. A recent survey conducted on 4,000 people belonging to the high-risk behavioural groups indicates that Bangladesh is on the threshold of an AIDS epidemic. This study undertaken by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), and the National AIDS Prevention and Control Programme revealed that out of every 100 intravenous drug users in Bangladesh, two carry the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) which causes AIDS.

Apart from this, at least one in a hundred brothel female sex workers, and one in two hundred street sex workers, also have HIV. The situation is aggravated by a low level of understanding of how to protect oneself from HIV infection, as well as poor hygiene, and the sharing of needles by drug takers. It is apprehended that the country may be fast moving towards the kind of AIDS prevalence seen in a number of African countries unless preventive measures can break the trend.

In the initial stage of the disease most (60%) of the patients remain asymptomatic. But in a few cases the patient may develop 'flu' like symptoms after 1-3 weeks. The fever in these cases may continue from 1 to 3 weeks. Weight loss, chronic diarrhoea, and swollen lymph nodes are major signs of AIDS. The HIV virus takes about 3 to 6 months from the time of entering the body to become detectable in the blood. This period is called the window period. In some cases the person may remain in the carrier stage for up to 15 years without developing any sign/symptoms. Of the carriers about 50% after 8 years and 60% after 15 years, develop AIDS. Once developed, AIDS cannot be cured. In the developed countries a person with AIDS may live up to 3 years and in the developing countries up to 1 year.

Religious and cultural values of Bangladeshi people is helpful in containing rapid spread of the disease. However, due to visits to neighbouring countries and contact with HIV-positive sex workers, lack of surveillance among sex workers in the country, drug addicts receiving injectible drugs, illegal blood banks etc., are factors that make Bangladesh vulnerable to AIDS epidemic. Meanwhile the number of AIDS patients have increased. According to UNAIDS report Bangladesh had 13,000 HIV-positive cases. There is no effective treatment or vaccine against AIDS. Bangladesh Government has undertaken a strong awareness creation programme nationwide. [Md. Shahidullah and MKI Quayyum Choudhury]