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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted through blood and body fluids and gradually weakens the immune system - usually over a three to ten year period – leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Many people live for years without symptoms and may not know they have been infected with HIV. A simple blood test can confirm HIV status.

A number of opportunistic infections (OIs) such as candidiasis, pneumonia, and various kinds of tumours are able to flourish as the immune system weakens. Some can be treated, while others are life-threatening. The most common OI leading to death is tuberculosis (TB).

Combinations of drugs known as antiretrovirals help combat the virus and enable people to live longer, healthier lives without a rapid deterioration of their immune systems. It is simplest and easiest to take these drugs properly when they are combined into single pills (fixed-dose combination). MSF’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS programmes generally include education and awareness activities so that people can learn how to prevent the spread of the virus, through condom distribution, HIV testing, pre and post-test counselling, treatment and prevention of opportunistic infections, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and provision of antiretroviral treatment for patients in advanced stages of the disease.

MSF provided care for over 190,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and anti-retroviral therapy for more than 162,000 people in 2009.