The history of AIDS

In the 30 over years since the scourge was first identified, over 30 million people around the world have died from AIDS-related illnesses, and twice as many have been infected with the HIV virus.

HIV attacks the immune cells and can be transmitted from an infected person to another through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.

These cells become progressively damaged over time. When that occurs, the body becomes increasingly vulnerable to infections, which it will have difficulty fighting off.

It is at the point of a very advanced HIV infection that a person is said to have AIDS.

If left untreated, it can take up to 10 years before the HIV virus does enough damage to the immune system for AIDS to develop.

In 2011, there were an estimated 3,500 new HIV cases in Malaysia, averaging nine new infections every day.

Statistics from the Diseases Central Unit in the Malaysian Health Ministry from the same year showed that an alarming 45 per cent of all new HIV infections occurred from heterosexual sexual transmission; 10 per cent from homosexual/bisexual sexual transmission; 38 per cent from injecting drug users; 2 per cent from mother to child, and 5 per cent from other causes.

Despite its popular reputation as a "gay disease", the increasing number of heterosexual HIV transmission suggests that the future HIV epidemiological landscape will be one that is driven by heterosexual sexual transmission.

But there is good news on the horizon. In a 2012 report, the United Nations was quoted saying that "Progress over the past decade has slashed the death toll and helped stabilise the number of people infected with HIV".

The number of new HIV cases worldwide is also on a decline, the UN Aids programme revealed in its annual report in November.

"Deaths from AIDS fell to 1.7 million in 2011, down from a peak of 2.3 million in 2005 and from 1.8 million in 2010.

Worldwide, the number of people newly infected with HIV is also falling. In 2011, the number of new infections was at 2.5 million, which is 20 per cent lower than in 2001.

AIDS-related illnesses are also on a decline on the local front. The first HIV case was reported in Malaysia some 25 years ago, and has since claimed the lives of an estimated 15,000 people. As of Dec 2011, about 80,000 Malaysians are reportedly living with HIV

However, the annual number of new HIV cases reported to the Health Ministry has fallen from a peak of 6,978 in 2002 to 3,479 new cases in 2011.

Among the efforts that the Health Ministry has undertaken to help curb and manage the disease include providing free antiretroviral treatment to HIV patients.

Although there is no known cure for AIDS, those living with HIV can take antiretroviral drugs to prevent or delay the onset of AIDS.