What does it really mean to have one of the most feared viruses on earth? BBC current affairs series This World asked people living with HIV in different parts of the world to explain how they attempt to lead normal lives.
Cynthia, 33, Botswana
I found out about my HIV status in October 2000.
When I got the results I could not believe it. Why me, young and beautiful as I was?
I thought I could not get infected and what was more, I thought I was not of the class to be infected.
I lived in denial. I even tried to commit suicide in July 2001. I was in a coma for three days.
My life was in turmoil, until September 2003, when I saw an advert in a local newspaper for a secretary in a local support group. They wanted someone, preferably, with HIV or Aids.
I went for the interview and got the job.
Now I am living positively with the virus in my body. By that I mean I have accepted my HIV status.
I have changed my behaviour. I used to have multiple relationships without using condoms but I don't do that now. Whenever I feel sick I always consult with my doctor.
I always communicate with my virus and it knows that I am in control. It knows that whenever I die, it also dies, so it better behave.
I have named my virus Joe, after my late brother. He was my favourite. I was so close to him that I never wanted to hurt him.
I love my virus because he is the close friend that is with me always and we are very proud of each other.
Shawn, 30, United States
Newly-wed Shawn lives with his wife Gwenn in Virginia in the US
At age 11, I found out I was HIV-positive.
Actually, I was initially told I had Aids.
Though it was 1987, I knew what Aids was... a deadly medical condition. The news constantly ran stories on the growing epidemic and even kids like me were scared of it.
I assumed I'd never have to deal with it since I already had a medical condition called haemophilia.
Blood-screening measures to prevent HIV weren't in order until the late 1980s, which is one of the reasons why so many people with haemophilia were infected.
For 10 years I remained silent on the topic of HIV, hoping that if I didn't think about it, that somehow the virus would just die inside me from boredom.
At age 20, I had a sudden revelation that I could help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections by speaking out about HIV/Aids.
That decision ultimately led me to the love of my life, Gwenn.
After attending a programme at her women's society in college, Gwenn became interested in HIV prevention.
She immediately recognised the importance of educating people in sexual health.
For the past five years we've been educating together by being open about our own relationship.
We've been together for seven years and Gwenn has remained HIV-negative.
It's important for us to show young people who have been desensitised by Aids, that this is preventable and that those who are living with HIV/Aids are just like them.
Vennila, 26, India
Vennila is fighting her in-laws for possession of the marital home
Ever since contracting HIV my whole life has changed.
I was married in 1997 to Chandra. It was arranged by my parents.
My life was very happy for the first six months. My son was born in 1998 and Chandra was busy looking after his lorry business.
But in 2001, my husband started to get fevers at frequent intervals. I did not know anything about HIV at the time but by 2002 he was bedridden and that was when he tested positive for the virus.
He used to go off in his truck. He could have gone somewhere and caught it that way, I suppose.
Then I went for tests and discovered I had it too.
I am not able to say how I feel about him. This only happened to me because I got married. It is our fate that this should happen and it's not going to change.
When I was diagnosed I was advised to see local doctors and get help. I saw many doctors. All of them said that I should boil the water and drink and eat lots of greens.
No doctor explained anything. They talked to us in a raised voice. I felt that they spoke without any respect.
Chandra died in July 2002 and I was driven out by my mother-in-law, with my son. Fortunately my parents were kind enough to allow me to live with them again.
I began to realise that I should work and earn a proper living... that I had an illness and that I also had a family to consider, and that I would need a certain strength of mind to protect both myself and my family.
I joined a computer class and joined an organisation that works to create awareness about HIV.
No person living with HIV should die because of lack of information, like my husband.
I now feel confident enough within myself to be able to counsel many other people.
Hanah works as a cabaret singer in Rio
I work as a drag queen artist and I discovered I was HIV-positive in 1992.
I went along to the hospital with a friend of mine who was very ill at the time.
A very badly trained nurse said to him that if he'd received a telegram from the hospital, it was possibly because he had Aids.
So I said I would have the test too, just to offer him some moral support.
But his came out negative and mine came out positive. That's how I discovered I had the virus.
Knowing that if you catch pneumonia you could die... that's what's bad, having that worry.
Knowing that nobody wants to have a relationship with you because they could catch the same virus and they would be condemned to death too.
People started turning away from me.
One thing that would make me very happy would be to be loved, to be cherished, desired. To have a husband who loves me as I am... as a transvestite, with Aids.
I feel that I'm living with a bomb inside me and that the merest of movements might trigger it off.
I can't get caught in the rain because if I do, it could turn into a cold, and this could turn into pneumonia.
I'm an honest person and I have my dignity. I honour my duties, I don't harm anybody and I try to help people. But none of this has been enough to fulfil my needs.
I continue feeling the need to be loved.
My father committed suicide after finding out I was HIV positive, my first boyfriend died on my birthday and my mother - who had adopted me from a young age - died at the same time as my husband left me.
I was left very much alone. I even tried to kill myself by hiring a hitman.
The Brazilian government do provide free anti-retroviral treatment, but providing the drugs alone is not enough.
It is true that Aids kills, but the prejudice, the discrimination and the mental sickness that comes with it are as damaging as the virus itself.
Cynthia, Shawn, Vennila and Hanah are all part of the BBC film Living Positive, which was broadcast on Thursday, 1 December, 2005 at 2100 GMT on BBC Two.
They also meet in London to discuss the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. This debate was broadcast on Friday, 2 December, 2005 at 1900 GMT on BBC Four.