Gala Benefits AIDSOne of New York’s most prominent events in support of AIDS research is the annual amFAR Gala, which will take place this year on Feb. 8. Included in the star-studded guest list are Donatella Versace, Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Heidi Klum and Lady Gaga. Lena Dunham, popularly known for her role in the HBO drama series, Girls, will host the event.

Since the American Foundation for AIDS Research’s first event in 1998, the annual amFAR Gala has collected more than $17 million in donations. With tickets starting at $1,750 and ending at $75,000, the black-tie event will include cocktails, dinner, a live auction and a special performance by Ellie Goulding. The gala serves to highlight the progress made in HIV/AIDS awareness and research. The event honors and recognizes those that have joined the fight against HIV/AIDS by donating.

Globally, 36.7 million people are affected by HIV/AIDS — 1.8 million of those being children who have most commonly inherited the disease during pregnancy or through breastfeeding. A majority of those infected live in poverty-stricken countries in the Asia-Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 60 percent of the world’s population and has the highest rate of HIV infection. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than 25.6 million people living with HIV.

Because of advancements in AIDS research funding by organizations such as amFAR, 18.2 million people infected with the disease are able to receive treatment. AmFAR’s funding has led to the implementation of numerous programs worldwide that are used to both encourage and distribute treatment. Specifically, amFAR has been a source of international support through various programs. These programs include the TREAT program in Asia which focuses on building clinics and educations centers that provide treatment and prevention education. Nepal has received amFAR’s assistance through the creation of educational programs for HIV. Studies carried out by amFAR in Kenya have further revealed modes of disease transmission.

Since its founding in 1985, amFAR has invested more than $450 million toward AIDS research, which has led to the creation of numerous programs and developments in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It is because of these advancements that the celebrity community can come together at New York’s 18th annual amFAR Gala this February to honor the progress accomplished by contributing individuals.

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

Product (RED)
Since its discovery in 1981, 35 million people have died from AIDS or AIDS-related diseases. The early years of the disease presented challenges for the medical community. However, as more people learned about the disease, another challenge emerged: how to best educate the public about the dangers of the disease without creating a stigma. This challenge still persists today.

The worldwide impact of AIDS is prolific. In 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV. Every day approximately 5,753 people contract HIV — about 240 every hour. In 2015, 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 78 million people have contracted HIV and 35 million have died of AIDS-related causes.

In 2006, Bono, lead singer of the Irish band U2, and Bobby Shriver, an activist and attorney, created Product (RED) to advocate for better awareness of AIDS. The two men believed that if they combined the efforts of NGOs, governments, the medical community, global business brands and celebrities, they could create a powerful force to foster understanding of the disease. The influential allies also provided funding for research to eradicate the disease.

Product (RED) business partnerships include Apple, Gap, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola. By creating products specifically for Product (RED), the partnership allows consumers to use purchasing power to fund AIDS treatment and awareness around the globe. (RED) partners contribute a portion of their (RED) product profits to fight AIDS, and up to 50 percent of the profits go directly to fighting AIDS.

Over the past decade, Product (RED) raised $365 million to support the Global Fund. Product (RED) has become a global brand; the combination of awareness and research is powerful. The money raised by Product (RED) provides life-saving medicine for those living with AIDS in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.

When Product (RED) began, only 2.1 million people had access to medication. Through their efforts, the organization raised money to fund medication for more than 18 million people. They have also increased the access to medication; in rural areas of Africa, filling a prescription is not easily accomplished. However, Product (RED) and its partnership with the Global Fund help create a pathway for the medication, by making sure the medicine reaches the people that need it most, the system is more efficient and life-saving.

AIDS is a worldwide epidemic, but the decade of Product (RED) illustrates the power of the combination of global alliances and knowledgeable consumers as a force for change.

Jennifer Graham

Photo: Flickr

PEPFAR Progresses Toward AIDS-Free Generation
December 1 marked World AIDS Day, which this year brought hopeful news about the 35-year-old epidemic. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) shared new data demonstrating significant progress in HIV reduction in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The announcement revitalized PEPFAR’s resolve to yield an AIDS-free generation by 2030.

In the press release, three countries represented the progress-at-large toward AIDS eradication due to the astonishing prevalence of the disease there. Respectively, Zimbabwe globally ranks fifth in most HIV cases among adults, followed by Zambia at seventh and Malawi at ninth.

Even so, reductions of the disease in these nations is appreciable. The incidence of HIV in adults since 2003 have decreased by 76 percent in Malawi, 51 percent in Zambia, and 67 percent in Zimbabwe. Across the three countries, the community viral load suppression among HIV-positive adults averages 65 percent, indicating HIV transmission is nearly under control. These shocking results are inspiring broader action and reinvigorating the AIDS-free dream.

Surpassing President Obama’s 2015 targets of global AIDS reduction, PEPFAR now provides about 11.5 million people with antiretroviral treatments, has performed 11.7 million voluntary medical male circumcisions, and has facilitated 2 million HIV-free births.

The momentum is gaining. Along with their World AIDS Day press release, PEPFAR announced their $4 million, two-year partnership with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). The project will enhance HIV service delivery to men in the Mulanje District of Malawi through mobile clinics and door-to-door household level testing. According to the project’s success, it will serve as a community-based-treatment model for other areas that are difficult to service, improving health care opportunities for hard-to-reach places around the world.

While there is still a long road ahead, PEPFAR’s announcements last week served as reminders that an AIDS-free world is not only possible but well within sight. Now is the time to redouble global efforts to prevent and treat HIV so that a new generation can live completely AIDS-free.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

AIDS Today: Where Has the Aid Gone for AIDS?
How dangerous is AIDS today?

While many wealthy nations have found ways to manage HIV, neither it nor AIDS had yet been eradicated.

Since the epidemic began in 1981, over 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus, and upward of 35 million have succumbed to AIDS.

In 2015 alone, 1.1 million people died of AIDS or of an AIDS-related illness. Sub-Saharan Africa houses a majority of the AIDS infected population. One in every 25 adults is infected with the disease.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly 70 percent of the worldwide infected population, while the other 30 percent are dispersed primarily throughout Western and Central Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Despite these substantial numbers, investments in HIV prevention research have decreased. Many donors were met with a slew of competing funding demands. Others no longer see the retrovirus as posing a current threat. Much of the world views HIV and AIDS as medical relics — diseases of a time long gone. Yet every day nearly 5,753 people are infected with HIV. That is about 240 people every hour.

HIV is transmitted from person-to-person through unprotected sexual intercourse, transmission of contaminated blood and from mother to child during birth or through breastfeeding. There is no cure for HIV, but the virus can be treated to almost a complete halt with antiretroviral therapy.

However, marginalized groups of people are not granted access to this therapy. As of December 2015, more than 60 percent of people living with HIV did not have access to antiretroviral therapy.

For the first time since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, scientists believe we are in reach of an entirely AIDS-free generation. Since 2000, the United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund estimates that about 30 million new infections have been averted, eight million lives have been saved and 15 million people who would not otherwise have access are now receiving treatment.

The International AIDS Conference is a biennial meeting held for people working in fields actively related to the prevention of HIV. This year, nearly 18,000 delegates and 1,000 journalists showed up. Many of those in attendance were policymakers, people living with the disease and others committed to putting a stop to the epidemic. This year’s theme was “Access Equity Right Now.” It focused primarily on the ways in which the world can refocus global efforts on HIV/AIDS today and hopefully making treatment readily available to everyone.

But why should we stop there? With access to birth control and prenatal care, better sex education and sterile medical equipment, it is conceivable that we could live in a world that is entirely HIV-free — a world where AIDS really is history.

Kayla Provencher

Photo: Flickr

Annie Lennox _ The Globa
Activist and world-renowned musician, Annie Lennox, has become a powerful and influential voice for those suffering from malaria, HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis. Her dedication to the cause became even clearer at a recent All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting in London where she spoke out in favor of the Global Fund and their efforts to reduce and treat disease in impoverished areas.

This is but one of the many ways in which Annie Lennox involves herself in issues of global poverty and disease. In the past, she has fundraised for the Treatment Action Campaign by donating the funds raised from her single, Sing. She is also a recipient of the British Red Cross’ Services to Humanity Award.

At the APPG meeting, she continued her charity work, by vocally supporting the Global Fund and their many initiatives. The Global Fund is a financing institution with the goal of providing support to countries suffering from diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The organization has set a $13 billion funding target for the 2017-2019 period. This money will go toward saving eight million people and stopping 300 million new infections across the span of three years. In order to reach this goal, donor nations will have to increase their offerings by 20 percent. Multiple nations such as Japan and Canada have agreed to this increase. However, the U.K.’s contribution is crucial to reaching this goal.

In her keynote speech, Annie Lennox urged British members of parliament to invest further in the Global Fund and increase their disease-fighting efforts. She said: “With the upcoming replenishment of the Global Fund, the U.K. government has the opportunity to show that their continued leadership and dedication to saving and improving quality of life has not waned.”

Award-winning actress Emma Thompson supported the call for the U.K. to step up their funding. Other notable speakers, such as The ONE Campaign’s U.K. Director, Saira O’Mallie, spoke on the same subject. O’Mallie addressed the pertinent issue through her statement, “Amid the uncertainty over the U.K.’s position in the world following Brexit, the Government’s continued commitment to the Global Fund will offer reassurance to millions of vulnerable people.”

The Global Fund does wonders to improve health across the globe, and should be supported across all countries in addition to the U.K.

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Public Health Challenge: Combating the Top Diseases in Estonia
A member of the European Union since 2004, Estonia is among the wealthiest nations in the Baltic region. Likewise, the country has a modern health system that can reasonably support its population of 1.3 million.

Almost all Estonians are covered by health insurance, and the greatest menaces to public health, like heart disease and cancer, are characteristic of a developed country.

Nonetheless, more than one in five Estonians lives below the poverty line and are especially at risk for certain health problems that are prevalent in the country. Here are some of the top diseases in Estonia and what is being done to combat them.

HIV/AIDS

While the death toll from AIDS is dwarfed by that of heart disease and cancer in Estonia, the country has the highest prevalence of HIV in all of Europe. Around 1.3 percent of the population carries HIV, comparable to rates in Sierra Leone or Mali.

The first case of HIV was diagnosed in 1988, and the rate of incidence remained minuscule until the turn of the century. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease exploded in 2000, mostly among drug users.

Since then, the incidence rate has declined, but still more cases are reported each year. Epidemiologists have found that heterosexual transmission has increased in recent years, adding to the more than 9 thousand Estonians who have been infected.

Estonia has seriously grappled with HIV/AIDS for decades. All treatment for HIV-positive patients is free, and education about the disease is standard in Estonian classrooms. Some trends have epidemiologists in the country hopeful: according to UN AIDS, both safe sex practices and HIV testing are on the rise among Estonians.

Tuberculosis

Like AIDS, tuberculosis is not one of the major killers in Estonia, but the disease poses complex challenges for the country’s health system. Estonia has one of the highest multi-drug resistant tuberculosis burdens in the world. In many ways, tuberculosis in the country is tied to the issue of HIV: the prevalence of TB/HIV co-infection in Estonia is one of the highest in Europe at 15 percent.

Beyond people who suffer from AIDS, tuberculosis also particularly threatens Estonians who use intravenous drugs or drink heavily — a population that reports from WHO suggest could be large.

The rate of tuberculosis incidence is decreasing, indicating that Estonia is winning its battle against the disease. But according to WHO, as the incidence decreases, new challenges will arise. As the issue shrinks in magnitude, political and financial commitment may also dwindle — something that Estonia’s government must avoid if the disease is to be defeated in the country.

Obesity

There is still controversy over whether obesity is actually a “disease,” but reports and data on public health in Estonia have outlined it as a clear issue. Sources disagree, but 2014 research from the University of Tartu found that as many as one in three Estonians are clinically obese (a body mass index of over 30).

Obesity can greatly increase the risk of a myriad of health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke accounted for nearly half of all deaths in Estonia in 2012 (48 percent), so many physicians believe the issue should be taken seriously as one of the top diseases in Estonia.

The issue may be correlated to modernization. WHO estimates that nearly half of Estonian adults are insufficiently active, while salt intake is growing.

Obesity is not an easy issue to tackle, but growing scholarship and research on obesity has helped Estonia assess its magnitude and effects. In recent years the government has implemented some policies to promote consumer awareness and healthy eating habits in schools.

Estonia faces unique but surmountable public health challenges. The government likely has the means to solve such issues, and the nation, therefore, serves as a good example of how funding is not the only weapon fights like these; there must be political attention, commitment and patience. Coming years will tell the extent Estonia’s diligence in the realm of health, and likely provide valuable lessons for nations facing similar issues.

Charlie Tomb

Photo: Flickr

International AIDS ConferenceThe International AIDS Society (IAS) hosted the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa from July 18 to July 22. The conference discussed the various improvements in HIV/AIDS science as well as challenges the medical community needs to address.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Access Equity Rights Now.” The event was designed to tackle inequalities in access to medical treatment, including barriers such as poverty, gender, race and location.

South Africa has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world. According to UNAIDS, anywhere between 6.7 and 7.4 million people live with HIV in the country. Yet, more than 60 percent of those infected are not on antiretroviral treatment.

The previous International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, Australia called for the Victorian State government to repeal a law discriminatory to the HIV-positive population. Additionally, the 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. led to the government removing the country’s travel ban on individuals with HIV.

The equity rights movement within the 2016 conference is a push toward equality for marginalized communities affected by the virus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two-thirds of new HIV infections occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers are among the various groups that are at a higher risk of infection. Even women face higher chances of transmission and greater barriers to treatment.

The International AIDS Conference brings together health professionals to improve the state of HIV/AIDS detection and treatment around the world. While there is still a long way to go in the struggle against this virus, statistics over recent years show promise.

The WHO reports a 35 percent decrease in new HIV cases in addition to a 28 percent decrease in deaths due to AIDS since 2000. With the majority of HIV cases in low and middle-income countries, the support of the international community is crucial to saving lives.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian singers
A remarkable number of singers spend time fighting poverty between recording sessions and tours. In particular, four humanitarian singers made an especially large impact through both creating and supporting various foundations.

1. Shakira

Shakira gained worldwide fame for her pop music with a Latin flare. However, she also leads a philanthropic career outside of music.

The artist primarily focuses on universal education and early childhood development. She founded the Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet) Foundation that looks to “bring education to every child in the world.”

Shakira also supports the ONE campaign, which mobilizes individuals to do their part to end extreme poverty.

Another campaign she promotes and supports is Habitat for Humanity. This organization strives to give everyone in the world adequate housing.

2. Bono

Bono is not only the leader singer of the world renowned band U2, but he is also well known for his humanitarian efforts. He has helped fight poverty by supporting and creating multiple campaigns and projects.

These include the ONE campaign and (RED), which advocates for an AIDS free globe. Bono also supports EDUN which encourages trade between impoverished countries in order to boost their economies.

In addition, he often participates in fundraising concerts to help raise money for these foundations and to promote important causes.

3. Elton John

Don’t let the sun go down on Elton John: he’s ready to change the world. The well-known singer and songwriter is also a supporter in the quest to eliminate AIDS around the world.

He created the Elton John AIDS Foundation in order to help reduce the AIDS epidemic. Consequently, his foundation has raised over $125 million, which has gone to support 55 different countries. This support promotes education prevention and provides services to those in need.

He also supports other foundations, such as AIDS LIFE, World AIDS Day and War Child.

4. Alicia Keys

“No One” can deny Alicia Keys’ contributions toward fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This singer also uses her powerhouse singing voice to speak for the unheard individuals.

She co-founded Keep a Child Alive, which focuses on the millions of children that die from AIDS in places where medical treatment is sub-par or unavailable. This foundation offers a range of services, including diagnostic testing and health care training.

In addition, Keys has traveled to Uganda, Kenya and South Africa to speak to those who have lost their parents to the deadly disease. She also raised money for the charity by offering a private concert as a prize in an auction.

In an interview with Everyday Health, Keys eloquently says, “Helping keep a child or mother or father or brother or sister alive means turning the worst epidemic of our lifetime into the greatest victory of our generation.”

5. Other Notable Humanitarian Singers

In addition, a coalition of humanitarian singers have all joined Water Now’s quest to provide people in need with clean water. These artists include Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Pharrell Williams, Adam Levine, Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Hudson, 5 Seconds of Summer and Justin Bieber.

With the help of Watermill Express, every time a gallon of water is purchased at one of the 1300 kiosks dispensed around the United States, a gallon of clean water is donated on behalf of the buyer to a person in need in a developing country.

Humanitarian singers and celebrities continue to help raise money and awareness for global issues. All of the foundations they support and create are easy to find and donate to thanks to their philanthropic publicity.

Casey Marx

Photo: Shakira

fast-track approach to ending AIDS
From June 8 to 10, the UN General Assembly held the High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York City to draft a new Political Declaration on Ending AIDS and to introduce the Fast-Track approach to ending AIDS.

The Fast-Track approach to ending AIDS plans to increase and front-load investments in fighting the AIDS epidemic. This would be done in combination with scaled up coverage of HIV services in order to reduce the rate of new infections and AIDS-related deaths.

Greater investment in human rights, advocacy, civil society and community-based services are also essential to the Fast-Track approach, according to meeting documents.

The ultimate goals of the Fast-Track approach to ending AIDs are to ensure that fewer than 500,000 people are newly infected with HIV, to ensure that fewer than 500,000 people die from AIDS-related illnesses and to eliminate HIV-related discrimination.

UNAIDS, the branch of the UN working towards “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths” as part of the Sustainable Development Goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, said in a press statement that it wanted to hear from both individuals living with HIV and NGOs helping people on the ground during the meeting.

One such group is AIDS Outreach, an NGO located in Montana. Executive Director Bob Cruz said in an interview that most of his time is spent testing for HIV. His next biggest challenge is ensuring that those who test positive for HIV find an insurance package they can afford.

“Treatment is out there, but to get [people living with HIV] on it we need to know what insurance options are available,” Cruz said. “There are many, but they don’t know it.” According to Cruz, treatment for HIV can cost $3,000 to $4,000 per month.

In Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report, “On the fast track to ending the AIDS epidemic,” he noted that he has spoken with individuals about their difficulties obtaining the retroviral medicine they need.

Although past successful policies have extended access to retroviral treatment, the UN General Assembly’s zero draft political declaration states that people living with HIV “in low- and middle-income countries still remain without treatment.”

The declaration goes on to say that “a substantial proportion of people on antiretroviral therapy face social and structural barriers to good health, including lack of social protection, care and support and as a result struggle to adhere to their treatment.”

Until a recent funding cut, AIDS Outreach had offered support groups for people living with HIV and for men who have sex with men, a key population affected by HIV. Before the cut, Cruz said the groups gave people a sign of visible support. Their purpose was “to offer someone a space to talk about what is on their mind,” free of judgment.

If Cruz had more resources, he would restart AIDS Outreach’s support groups and put more time into educating people in schools and prisons. He would also want to ensure that people knew more about recent advancements in treatment, helping to reduce the fear and stigma of living with HIV.

According to Cruz, new treatments such as PrEP, a drug that people at very high risk for HIV take daily to lower their chances of getting infected, allow people to live without the constant fear of their immune system becoming compromised.

At the High Meeting, the zero draft political statement said that health needs must be addressed in a more holistic manner. The UN will not only work to ensure the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV, but also “health security, universal health coverage and health system strengthening and preparedness.”

As part of the greater investment in HIV prevention and treatment, and to provide more holistic treatment, key areas are in need of more resources.

According to meeting documents, community mobilization needs to rise to three percent of total HIV investment by 2020—three times the current amount. Investment in social enablers, such as advocacy, law and policy reform and stigma reduction, needs to rise to eight percent of total investment by that time.

In 2014, there was $19 billion available that had been invested in the prevention and treatment of HIV. Meeting documents stated that this needs to increase to $26 billion available annually by 2020.

It is hoped that this increased investment, along with better service coverage and a more efficient use of resources, will lead to the success of the fast-track approach to ending AIDS, resulting in declining annual resource needs after 2020.

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: Flickr

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ana_raquel/8363643633/in/faves-100442662@N03/UNAIDS Partnered With Faith-based Organizations to Strengthen HIV Response
UNAIDS and United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) collaborated with faith-based organizations (FBOs) in East Africa to launch a two-year initiative to strengthen their capacity to respond to HIV.

On Sep. 15, 2015, in the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, it was revealed that the five focus areas of the U.S. $4 million program are: collecting, analyzing and disseminating data; challenging stigma and discrimination; increasing demand for HIV services and retaining people in care; improving HIV-related service provision; and strengthening leadership and advocacy.

This new program is the result of suggestions made by faith leaders at a deliberation in April 2015. The conference hosted over 50 faith leaders from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The faith leaders called for more access to data, heightened accountability and better collaboration between FBOs and international partners.

The report, Building on Firm Foundations, which was released by the United Nations General Assembly, UNAIDS, PEPFAR and Emory University last month, highlights the impact of faith-based responses to epidemics in the four East African countries.

FBOs provided a majority of health services and sustained collaborative communities which maintain a disease-free environment for future generations.

PEPFAR’s partnership with FBOs has allowed them to reach 7.7 million people with lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and treat 14.2 million pregnant women, thus decreasing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The recently launched PEPFAR 3.0 – Controlling the Epidemic: Delivering on the Promise of an AIDS-free Generation set the ambitious goal of 90-90-90.

By 2020, PEPFAR aims to achieve: 90 percent of people living with HIV who know their status, 90 percent of people who know their status and are receiving treatment and 90 percent of people on HIV treatment who have a suppressed viral load.

Thus it is important to strengthen partnerships with FBOs, as they are primary health providers for many communities, and allow UNAIDS and PEPFAR to expand their impact.

Luiz Loures, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, stated that “Faith-based organizations are essential partners, particularly in the areas of health service delivery and addressing stigma and discrimination. The partnership with faith-based organizations is critical to ending the AIDS epidemic and making sure that no one is left behind.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: UNAIDS, PEPFAR Report
Photo: Flickr