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Introduction
    An obscure article in The New York Times in 1981 reported the outbreak of a rare form of "cancer" (Kaposi sarcoma) among 41 gay men in New York and California. This "cancer" was identified eventually to be caused by the "human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)". The HIV attacks the immune system and in its more advanced stage, the immune system is so compromised -- thus, the term "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)" -- leading to opportunistic infections among people infected with HIV.

    Since the discovery of HIV, about 22 million people worldwide have died of AIDS and an estimated 36 million people are living with HIV or AIDS1. These numbers are more than 50% higher than previous estimates in 1991. In year 2000 alone, about 5 million people have been infected with HIV and about 2 million have died of AIDS.

    More than 70% of people with HIV/AIDS now live in Africa (more specifically SubSaharan Africa), the majority these cases were contracted through heterosexual transmission. In some of the countries in SubSaharan Africa, more than 10% of the total population are infected and still much higher among those in the 15-49 age range.

    While the complications of HIV infection was first diagnosed among gay men (and still the case in many Western countries), recent cases indicated increased incidence of transmission among heterosexuals in other parts of the world. In fact, in SubSaharan Afric more women (55%) than men are infected with HIV1. Because of the prevalence of heterosexual transmission, pregnant women have transmitted the virus to their newborn during the delivery process or breastfeeding.

    There has been significant progress in drug development to avert the progression of the disease. However, the cost of these drugs are too high so that they are essentially out of reach to people living with HIV/AIDS in many of the less developed countries. Moreover, the HIV strains found in Western countries -- where most of the drugs were developed -- are quite different from the HIV strains found in other part of the world. The latter may reduce the efficacy of the drugs when used against the HIV strains in other countries.

    Aside from the variety of HIV strains found in different part of the world, a more serious concern is the ability of the different viruses to mutate quite rapidly. This results in rapid development of viral resistance to current drugs against AIDS.

    The development of vaccines against HIV would be a more economically feasible solution against the disease, especially in less developed countries. So far, the development of such an "AIDS vaccine" has eluded the scientific community. However, even with successful development of AIDS vaccines, the efficacy of these vaccines against HIV can be thwarted by the rapid mutation of the various HIV strains.

    With increasing globalization, the heterosexual mode of transmission of HIV may reach a critical stage also in Western countries. It is imperative therefore that the AIDS epidemic be fought on a global scale.

    The AIDS Primer attempts to consolidate information about HIV and AIDS from a variety of sources. Instead of being comprehensive, the AIDS Primer focused mainly on sites that were developed by major research, educational, government and international institutions directly involved in the fight against AIDS. This will ensure that linked sites are stable and the information provided to the reader are as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

    Use the major topics shown on the left to look for specific topics or resources. The AIDS Basics section is intended for lay people who are just beginning to understand HIV and AIDS. Topics included in the latter section are expounded further in other sections -- visit the A to Z navigation links above, preceded by "AIDS".

    In case you do not find what you are looking for among the various topics included in the "A to Z navigation links" above and in the other related sections (see left navigation links), the Untitled Search section in this website provides search engines and directories that are more specific for the health and biomedical sciences. Some of these search engines and directories included information databases that were prepared specifically for laypeople as well as for physicians and scientists.


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Footnotes:
  1. For a more comprehensive overview, visit AIDS Epidemic Update (Dec. 2000)

  2. Untitled Caution & Disclaimer: The primary sites cited in the "A to Z navigation links", as well as in the major sections (see left navigation links), were written or compiled by scientists and clinicians, but some of the hyperlinked sites (within the primary links) were not always written by scientists nor clinicians. Also, the contents of some of the hyperlinked sites were not always based from scientific research or clinical trials but more from personal experience of or interpretation of the literature by people with HIV/AIDS or caregivers and others with interest about the disease. Therefore, exercise caution when using any information provided. Be sure to discuss them with your primary health care provider.

    Because of the nature of some forms of the transmission of HIV, the language used in some of the hyperlinked sites can be very explicit.