Oral health

Oral health and communicable diseases

HIV/AIDS and oral health

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of the most serious to affect humanity. By the end of 2007, some 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV, and millions had died of AIDS. Many more people are affected because their parents, other family members, friends and co-workers have died from AIDS or are infected with HIV. HIV/AIDS is the fastest growing threat to development today and the epidemic is particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. National programmes, international organizations, civil society, communities and individuals have responded to the epidemic. The initial efforts were often weak and scattered as the full nature and scope of the threat were not fully understood. As the epidemic has progressed, realization of its complex causes and effects has increased. The greatest challenge in responding to HIV/AIDS at present is to ensure that proven, gender sensitive strategies for prevention and care are widely implemented to a level where there will be significant impact on the epidemic.

The WHO Oral Health Programme can make important contributions to the early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of this disease. A number of studies have demonstrated that about 40-50% of HIV positive persons have oral fungal, bacterial or viral infections often occurring early in the course of the disease. Oral lesions strongly associated with HIV infection are pseudo-membranous oral candidiasis, oral hairy leukoplakia, HIV gingivitis and periodontitis, kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and dry mouth due to a decreased salivary flow.

The WHO Oral Health Programme has prepared a guide to provide a systematic approach to the implementation of epidemiological studies of oral conditions associated with HIV infection; to provide guidelines for the collection, analysis, reporting and dissemination of data from such studies, and to facilitate comparison of findings from different studies. It also aims to encourage oral health personnel and public health practitioners to make oral health status an integral part of optimum case management and of surveillance activities of the diseases associated with HIV infection.

The WHO Oral Health Programme, in collaboration with other WHO technical programmes and WHO Collaborating Centres on Oral Health, will facilitate and coordinate the expansion of successful initiatives through technical and managerial support.

Such activities may focus on:

  • Identification of the most indicative oral manifestations of HIV/AIDS.
  • Involvement of oral health personnel in the documentation of HIV/AIDS to ensure appropriate medical evaluation, prevention and treatment.
  • Training of other health professionals on how to screen for oral lesions and extra-oral manifestations. Using the "Train the trainer" - approach to reach health care workers at community or village level.
  • Dissemination of information on the disease and its prevention through every possible means of communication.
  • WHO technical support to meetings at regional or inter-regional levels aiming at sharing country experiences in monitoring HIV/AIDS prevention and lifestyle modification through campaigns and community programmes.

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