Wherever I travelled – from Africa to hospices in Russia to clinics in Thailand – I saw the tortured face of AIDS. In advanced stages of the disease, the central nervous system can begin to deteriorate, leaving some victims powerless even to close their eyes and mouths. Nerve endings in the extremities go numb or tingle as if pricked by thousands of needles. AIDS robs the brain of its cognitive functions, leaving patients raving with dementia. It saps the body’s protein, wasting muscles to the bone. Draped in nothing but skin, 20-year-olds look 70. Even then the release of death can lie weeks or months away.

In 1985, few people knew their HIV status. After all, the United States Food and Drug Administration had licensed the first commercial blood test to detect HIV.

What we know now is that more than 36 million people worldwide carry HIV, although 95 percent of them are never officially diagnosed HIV-positive. Every 24 hours, 15,000 more become infected with the virus, while 8,000 others die of the resultant AIDS. And we know that AIDS victims suffer merciless deaths when their disabled immune systems allow otherwise treatable ailments to become fatal.

I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat and competitive world.

Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

AIDS was first clinically observed in 1981 in the United States. The initial cases were a cluster of injecting drug users and homosexual men with no known cause of impaired immunity who showed symptoms of Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), a rare opportunistic infection that was known to occur in people with very compromised immune systems.

Disease in a baby can often be prevented by giving both the mother and child antiretroviral medication.

There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy. Treatment is recommended as soon as the diagnosis is made. Without treatment, the average survival time after infection is 11 years.

In 2015, about 36.7 million people were living with HIV and it resulted in 1.1 million deaths. Most of those infected live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between its discovery and 2014 AIDS has caused an estimated 39 million deaths worldwide. HIV/AIDS is considered a pandemic — a disease outbreak which is present over a large area and is actively spreading.

Currently, there is no licensed vaccine for HIV or AIDS.

There is currently no cure or effective HIV vaccine. Treatment consists of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) which slows progression of the disease. As of 2010, more than 6.6 million people were taking them in low and middle income countries. Treatment also includes preventive and active treatment of opportunistic infections.

Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important tools you have in fighting HIV, so it’s important to find the right one. Ask your primary care doctor for recommendations. You can also compile a list of prospects by searching online or contacting your local AIDS service organisation (ASO).

You’ll need a doctor with experience treating people with HIV; if you’re a woman, you’ll also need a gynaecologist who’s informed about HIV. If you have another health condition, like hepatitis or heart disease, you might also need to see another specialist.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with your doctor and that you discuss any issues you may have.

A stigma exists around AIDS across the world in a variety of ways, including ostracism, rejection, discrimination and avoidance of HIV infected people; compulsory HIV testing without prior consent or protection of confidentiality; violence against HIV infected individuals or people who are perceived to be infected with HIV; and the quarantine of HIV infected individuals.