HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

It is a retrovirus that attacks the immune system, disabling the body's natural protection against external infections. HIV only affects human beings and its presence can be detected through an HIV antibody test. HIV is highly concentrated in blood, semen and vaginal fluid but is present in very low concentrations in saliva and tears.. HIV is a very 'intelligent' virus. It can mutate and hide inside the human body, which makes it an almost invincible target. However, outside the human body, the virus is weak. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

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What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. 'Acquired' means something that is

ited. 'Immune Deficiency' means a weakened immune system that is unable to

oming diseases. 'Syndrome' means signs and symptoms of an illness.

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the condition whereby HIV has destroyed a person's immune system, such unable to defend the body from opportunistic diseases. Examples of common Special Projects NSEP

stic infections in a person who has developed AIDS are Kaposi's Sarcoma,

cystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP) and Tuberculosis.

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oes HIV break down the immune system?
system. The immune system functions via white blood cells, which identify, attack,

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hanism that protects the human body from bacterial or viral infections is known as the

oy infections and cancerous cells. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell.

ering the human body, HIV will attack CD4 cells and destroy them. The viruses then

ed CD4 cells to produce more HIV viruses. These new viruses invade other CD4 cells, weakened and cannot fight against oncoming infections.

he body's immune system to slowly deteriorate. As a result, the body's immune

n't know who has HIV

an be infected with HIV. It is not who you are, but more so what you do that puts Who is MAF Mission The Malaysian AIDS Foundation's 'Circle of Hope' fund supports Faces of MAF

sk of an HIV infection. HIV carriers may look and feel healthy but at the same time, how they look on the outside. Prevention is, by far, still the best method for avoiding

able to transmit the virus to others. It is not possible to identify an HIV-positive person

tion.

lls and viral load

s are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight against infections. Viral load

antity of HIV contained within 1 milliliter of blood. The viral load should be zero in the

a person without HIV. Post infection, the CD4 count goes down and viral load

s.

e a cure?

nnot be cured. There are ongoing research projects to find a vaccine that could

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How HIV/AIDS is spread among women • In many societies, there are cultural mindsets that promote different standards
• •
of empowerment between men and women. Males are expected to initiate relationships, whereas sexual assertiveness in females is often stigmatized or considered taboo. It is typical for women to marry or have sex with older men, who most likely have been sexually active for a longer period of time, hence have a higher probability of being exposed to HIV infection. Some societies expect women to have one life-long sex partner, whereas men are expected or even encouraged to be more adventurous. As a result, women are usually more monogamous compared to men. Reliance on monogamy can be misleading for these women as it can only protect against sexually transmitted diseases if their male counterparts abide by the concept. In some countries, women are not even permitted to talk about sex with their men, let alone negotiate safer sex practice. Males' resistance to condom use due to concerns about reduced sensitivity, ignorance regarding proper condom usage and fear of permanent infertility, put women at greater risk of HIV infection. Some countries employ age or gender-based statutory restrictions regarding access to knowledge about sexuality, contraception and disease preventions. As a result, young men and women lack adequate information and learned-skills to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. Women are also vulnerable to threats of coerced sex (rape, sexual abuse, forced prostitution) from family members as well as outsiders.

• •

Cultures that enforce unsafe sexual activities such as ritual intercourse with a male relative after the death of a husband still exist. Traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, ritual scarification, tattooing and blood-letting using unhygienic utensils also multiply the risks of infection among women.

Economic subordination leads to HIV vulnerability • Since the beginning of time, women have faced discrimination in obtaining
decent education, employment and social status, which has contributed directly towards economic vulnerability in fending off HIV/AIDS. Financial dependence on male partners creates a barrier for women to negotiate safer sex practices. Some countries have laws that enforce women's economic dependence on men (e.g. laws that only permit property ownership and inheritance by men). Many women still rely on sex work for economic survival. War, famine, political oppression or poverty can result in migration. The

• • • •

phenomenon can increase a woman's vulnerability to HIV infection as she might get isolated from the familiar community structures and at the same time, cannot communicate effectively with the locals.

Biological vulnerability to HIV • Women have larger mucosal surface area, which can pose more probability for
• • •
exposure to the virus. Virus concentration in semen is relatively higher than in vaginal fluids. Immature cervix and low vaginal mucous production offer less protection for young women. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that can cause ulcerative lesions encourage transmission of HIV. However, women with STDs are often without symptoms, which makes them less likely to seek treatment.

Statistically women, as compared to men, do require more frequent blood transfusions for incidents such as childbirth complications or conditions such as anemia.

Impacts of HIV/AIDS on women • Women are often stigmatized and blamed for causing HIV and other STD
infections, when in fact the transmission rate from men to women is 3 or 4 times higher than vice versa. HIV positive women are often thought to be promiscuous, when in fact 90% of HIV positive women caught the virus from their husbands. Discrimination against women who are perceived to be at risk of HIV infection has resulted in termination of employment, denial of health insurance and subsequently divorce, abandonment as well as separation from children and family members. HIV positive women are sometimes pressured not to become pregnant or to get sterilized and, if they are already pregnant, to abort the conceived baby.

• •

Most societies rely on women to be the voluntary caregivers of the family, as well as occupational caregivers for the community. This increases pressure on women, especially HIV positive women.

Susceptibility of youth towards HIV infection • Most HIV positive people are between the
ages of 18 to 39.

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Lack of appropriate education regarding HIV/AIDS increases vulnerability.

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Factors that increase the vulnerability of youth towards HIV infection:
Attitudes that can lead to HIV infection • Youths assume that HIV infection cannot

happen to them. Youths assume uncommon.

that

HIV

infection

is

Decisions made regarding sexual behavior usually disregard concerns for HIV

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infection. ge ack of education from parents and teachers about the facts of life increases

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ulnerability. naccurate or irrelevant information from a variety of sources including from

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arents, peers or even the media. ack of correlation between acquired knowledge and exercised behavior.

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ack of life-saving skills such as when and how to say 'No'. ctivities ouths are involved in a variety of sexual activities and experimentations.

emale youths are more susceptible to infections because:

hey may have relationships with older men who are already experienced and

xposed to multiple partners.

hey may be exposed to sexual violence.

hey may be forced into becoming sex workers. Usage ome youths do not know how or where to obtain condoms.

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ome youths are just plain shy about purchasing condoms.

Difficulty in persuading partners to use condoms.

Condoms are considered a hindrance to sexual pleasure.

Condom-carrying females are stigmatized as being morally corrupted. garding testing and treatment Worries about test outcome.

pprehensive about confidentiality issues.

ack of financial resources.

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