The Life Drama Project makes use of applied theatre & performance techniques to promote sexual health & wellbeing in Papua New Guinea, the Pacific and Northern Australia.

What are HIV & AIDS

1.3.1 What are HIV & AIDS

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus is spread primarily through sexual contact, but can also be transmitted from mother to child at birth, or through contact with infected blood (for example, through blood transfusion, or the sharing of needles or razors).

The HIV virus attacks T-helper cells (also known as CD4+ cells), the white blood cells which are responsible for keeping the body free from disease. Over time, if enough white blood cells are destroyed, the body becomes vulnerable to “opportunistic infections”.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, although AIDS is now recognised as a disease caused by infection with the HIV virus, rather than a syndrome (pattern of symptoms with an unknown cause). AIDS is diagnosed in two ways: T-helper cells falling below a set limit, or the patient falling ill with one or more of the opportunistic infections which are rarely seen in healthy immuno-competent people.

Many factors affect the length of time someone can live with HIV without developing AIDS. These factors include the particular strain of the HIV virus which the person has, the prevalence of opportunistic infections in their environment, their age, their genetic inheritance, and the care they receive from family and community. Without specific treatment for the HIV virus, it is common to live for 9 to 10 years after becoming infected before developing AIDS.