One of the most feared and least understood diseases, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a degenerative illness that affects the immune system and is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly referred to as the HIV virus. AIDS is spread through fluid exchange and can be transmitted through sexual acts, shared medical syringes, breastfeeding, transfusions and other activities that allow bodily fluids to be introduced into the bloodstream. No vaccine or cure is available for HIV or AIDS, but a number of treatments can lessen the symptoms and extend the lives of patients infected with the disease.
The first known cases of AIDS were identified by the Center for Disease Control in 1981 in Los Angeles, California. The HIV virus had been reported in the Congo two decades earlier. A close genetic relative of the simian immunodeficiency virus found in African monkey populations, HIV is believed to have made the jump from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s. This mutation allowed the HIV virus to infect humans and to be passed readily from person to person. Once exposed, individuals who carry the HIV virus are considered to be HIV-positive and are at significant risk of developing AIDS. Not all individuals who test positive for HIV will contract AIDS; it is not well understood what allows some HIV-positive persons to avoid developing the disease.
The suppression of the immune system produced by AIDS can cause a number of other ailments, many of which can prove debilitating or fatal. In poorer nations, tuberculosis is one of the most common side effects of AIDS, while candidiasis, Karposi’s sarcoma and cryptococcal meningitis affect AIDS sufferers worldwide. Two of the most damaging complications are the characteristic wasting of body tissues and musculature and the deterioration of the patient’s mental state into AIDS dementia complex as the disease progresses. These illnesses are related to the failure of the immune system rather than direct results of the HIV virus or AIDS itself and are typically referred to as opportunistic infections since they take advantage of the body’s weakened immune system.
There is no cure for AIDS, but a number of antiretroviral drugs offer significant protection against the opportunistic infections characteristic of the syndrome. These antiretroviral drugs are divided into five separate groups:
These drugs act in concert with each other to prevent the HIV virus from replicating and inserting copies of itself into other cells, thus slowing the spread of the disease and reducing its effects on the immune system. Antioxidants have also proven helpful both before and after the onset of AIDS symptoms in boosting the immune system, while proper nutrition is essential to maintain health in HIV-positive patients.
Moringa oleifera is a versatile, highly nutritious plant that grows in a wide range of climates and can survive for extended periods in dry, near-drought conditions. A number of studies have recently been completed or are currently underway to investigate the utility of moringa powder in treating HIV-positive patients in areas where there is a critical shortage of medical supplies and antiretroviral drugs are prohibitively expensive or unavailable. Moringa leaves contain powerful antioxidants that can help prevent or delay some of the worst complications arising from AIDS, so it is a natural choice for areas where modern medical facilities are scarce and overcrowded. The proceedings of the 14th International AIDS Conference held in Barcelona, Spain in 2002 included a recommendation that moringa powder be considered as an alternative treatment to boost the immune systems of HIV-positive patients in Africa who would otherwise not receive antiretroviral drugs or, in fact, any treatments at all. Because moringa also provides superior nutritional value for patients it can also prove useful in preventing immune system breakdown due to malnutrition, thus offering even more help for poorer areas in Africa and around the globe. While moringa's antioxidant and nutritional benefits cannot directly compete with the superior results of modern antiretrovirals, it shows promise in providing reduced mortality rates and improved health for HIV-positive and AIDS patients in these less developed areas.