HIV and AIDS: Understanding the difference.

Are HIV and AIDS the same? Here are some of the key differences between HIV and AIDS. 

HIV and AIDS: Understanding the difference.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV attacks the white blood cells (also called CD4 or T-cells) that fight off infections in our bodies. Over time, left undiagnosed and untreated, the HI Virus eventually destroys most or all of these white blood cells. You can have HIV, but you do not necessarily and automatically have AIDS.

There is no cure for HIV, as yet. Advancements in modern medicine do mean we can now access treatment more easily. HIV treatment, also known as ARV treatment, is more affordable and easier to administer.

Similar to other chronic manageable conditions, HIV can be controlled. This enables HIV-positive people to live healthy, happy lives, for many years and even decades after diagnosis. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. An HIV test is simple, fast, and generally free. Most government health facilities and community health centres offer HIV testing and counselling. You can now also buy a HIV home test kit, at a pharmacy, retail store, or online shop. 

 Like most viruses, early symptoms of HIV are also flu-like which include fever, chills, night sweats and muscle aches to name a few. While these can last for days or even several weeks they are not always present in all HIV-positive people. Some people may have HIV for as long as 10 years without exhibiting any symptoms.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) 

HIV and AIDS are not the same. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection.You can only be diagnosed with AIDS when your CD4 count is below 200.

Not everyone that gets infected with HIV will end up advancing to this stage. As your immune system is almost completely destroyed by this stage, you become susceptible to opportunistic infections. This is why ARV treatment is so incredibly important. By starting and remaining on ARV treatment, you can prevent or delay the onset of AIDS when you are HIV-positive. 

Understand more about HIV and how to live a happy, healthy life when you are HIV-positive. 

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The world fights

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has begun an aggressive “Treat All “campaign aimed at ending AIDS within a generation. Here are some of the key facts about HIV and AIDS:

  • HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 34 million lives so far. In 2014, 1.2 [980 000–1.6 million] million people died from HIV-related causes globally.
  • There were approximately 36.9 [34.3–41.4] million people living with HIV at the end of 2014 with 2.0 [1.9–2.2] million people becoming newly infected with HIV in 2014 globally.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with 25.8 [24.0–28.7] million people living with HIV in 2014. Also, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 70% of the global total of new HIV infections.
  • HIV infection is often diagnosed through rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), that detect the presence or absence of HIV antibodies. Most often, these tests provide same day test results.
  • There is no cure for HIV infection. Effective antiretroviral (ARV) drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at substantial risk, can enjoy healthy and productive lives.
  • It is estimated that currently, only 54% of people with HIV know their status. In 2014, approximately 150 million children and adults in 129 low- and middle-income countries received HIV testing services.
  • By mid-2015, 15.8 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, new HIV infections have fallen by 35%, AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 24% with some 7.8 million lives saved as a result of international efforts that led the global achievement of the HIV targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Expanding ART to all people living with HIV and expanding prevention choices can help avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.


World Health Organisation. n.d. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2020].

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