all_in
It takes only 30 seconds for another person between the ages of 10-19 to be diagnosed with HIV. In total, 2.1 million adolescents are currently living with the disease. While work is being done to combat HIV/AIDS for all ages, many people do not know that a particularly vulnerable population it affects is adolescents.

Globally, only 20 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys ages 15-19 fully understand all the ways the disease can be transmitted. That is why President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and big organizations like NAIDS; UNICEF; UNFPA; WHO; PEPFAR; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and the HIV Young Leaders Fund on behalf of the PACT and Y+ are “all in” on a new campaign meant to lower the HIV/AIDS rate in the youth population—called “All In.”

Those involved with “All In” have several motivations for this initiative. AIDS is not only the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa, but the second leading cause of death globally, which Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, referred to as a “moral injustice.” In addition, only one in four people under 15 have access to any kind of treatment for HIV.

“All In” hopes awareness will spread by creating hashtags: #AllIn and #EndAdolescentAIDS. Hashtags are typically used by adolescents themselves, so it could very well be teenagers helping out their fellow teenagers around the globe.

“We need to reach the adolescents we are missing and engage all young people in the effort to end adolescent AIDS,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In fact, we cannot achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation without them.” So far, youths have shown they are on board: 200 young people from various organizations were present at the official launch of “All In.”

The ultimate goal for “All In” is to eradicate adolescent HIV/AIDS diagnoses entirely by 2030. They plan to do this by increasing prevention and treatment and, of course, getting the information out. Whether it is through trips around the globe or a simple tweet, lives can change by merely speaking up.

Melissa Binns

Sources: All In, UNAIDS
Photo: U.N.

mothers2mothers

“We can’t end poverty if we fail to save the lives of our world’s mothers.” – Liya Kebede

According to the Foundation for AIDS Research, 70 percent of all people living with AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, including 91 percent of the world’s HIV-positive children. One organization called mothers2mothers is dedicated to educating and providing proper healthcare to mothers living with HIV.

Pediatric AIDS is preventable, but nearly 700 children are infected with HIV each day. Most of these children acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Up to 40 percent of children born to HIV-positive mothers will contract the virus; however, mothers2mothers hopes to provide numerous opportunities to infected mothers, ranging from education to healthcare. With medical interventions during pregnancy, that percentage of children infected with HIV could shrink to two percent.

It can be difficult getting proper treatment in sub-Saharan Africa, where many medical centers are understaffed or miles from villages. Many women live in fear due to the stigma of HIV and do not get the treatment they need to save their lives or the lives of their children.

Mothers2mothers’s slogan is “Empowered women nurture healthy families.” The organization focuses on empowering and educating women and expecting mothers in the hope to alleviate the stress of HIV and provide proper care. One wing of their organization involves Mentor Mothers, who are mothers living with HIV. Mentor Mothers work alongside doctors and nurses by becoming part of the healthcare team in the health center. Mentor Mothers serve as counselors and confidantes to other mothers living with HIV and educate women on how to protect their children from HIV.

So far, mothers2mothers has discovered that women involved in mothers2mothers are more likely to take antiretroviral drugs that prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; infants are better protected and are given an early diagnosis test to determine their health status.

Mothers2mothers plans on expanding and hopes to reach even more women than the 1.9 million women they currently serve. Mothers2mothers provides life-saving opportunities to women living with HIV as well as children.

Mothers bring children into this world, and children are the future. By saving the lives of mothers, the world can begin to see a healthier, brighter future that moves out of poverty and disease.

– Alaina Grote

Sources: Mothers2mothers, Aid for Africa
Photo: LGTVP

world_aids_day
As World AIDS Day 2014 fast approaches, organizations strive to promote awareness and support for the cause. Led by groups such as the World Health Organization, World AIDS Day takes place on December 1 each year. This year’s campaign aims to promote social change and focuses on closing the access gap to important treatment.

Over 39 million people have lost their lives to HIV over the last few decades, and an estimated 35 million people were living with the disease in 2013. World AIDS Day is intended to pay homage to those who have died while advocating awareness and support for an HIV-free future.

The 2014 campaign asserts that closing the gap in HIV testing accessibility would help 19 million unknowingly affected people receive care and support. Additionally, the 35 million HIV-positive people across the world would gain access to vital medicine.

The campaign also aims to allow for children to receive better access to HIV treatment, as currently only 24 percent are able to receive care.

Organizations declare that by closing the access gap, the world could see an end to the AIDS pandemic by the year 2030.

The WHO plans to honor World AIDS Day by releasing new information and recommendations to assist countries in their progress toward HIV prevention and treatment. The new WHO guidelines will cover recommended use of antiretroviral drugs for those that have been exposed to HIV including healthcare professionals, sex workers and rape victims. The manual will also include information regarding the treatment of infections and diseases that can be detrimental to HIV patients.

For the last several years, the WHO has been a strong advocate of antiretroviral, or ARV drug treatment for HIV infections. The latest statement reported, “The ARV regimens now available, even in the poorest countries, are safer, simpler, more efficacious and more affordable than ever before.”

As World AIDS Day approaches, many are showing their support for the cause and the 2030 virus-free goal. Leader of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, states, “With collective and resolute action now and a steadfast commitment for years to come, an AIDS-free generation is indeed within reach.”

However, WHO officials urge that there is still a great deal of work to be done in order for these treatments to become accessible to communities in need. Officials hope that the new HIV guidelines will help to close the gap in prevention and treatment for everyone affected.

In honor of World AIDS Day 2014, many companies are providing special offers that allow for proceeds to go toward the fight against AIDS. The (RED) campaign has partnered with businesses including the Apple Store, Starbucks, CocaCola, Bank of America and many more to raise awareness and gain support for the cause.

Getting involved this holiday season, either by participating in the campaign or helping as a consumer, can make an enormous difference in the future of our world.

– Megan Douches

Photo: World Aid Day UN AIDS, WHO
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS
Sex workers, along with other marginalized groups, are at high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS due to a multitude of reasons. The levels of risk vary greatly from country to country, depending on whether they work on the “streets” and have access to contraceptives, among other things. Even within countries, there can be great variance with the rates of HIV/AIDS. In Mumbai, India, sex workers have a HIV/AIDS prevalence of 4.6 percent, whereas brothels in Maharashtra have a rate of 29 percent. No matter the diversity, sex workers all over the world share common obstacles that increase their exposure to HIV/AIDS.

A sex worker usually has an extremely high number of sexual partners. If condoms are used consistently, then transmission of the disease is diminished, but that is not likely to be the case abroad. The 2010 UNAIDS global report found that only a third of the 86 countries researched reported 90 percent of workers using condoms with their last client. In many instances, sex workers lack access to condoms or are not aware of their importance. Moreover, many sex workers are not able to negotiate condom use, because it can mean he or she will be paid a lesser amount.

In addition, laws in many countries do little to protect sex workers, often ostracizing them from society. Although sex work can be partially legal in a few countries, legislation and policies do not punish the action of clients that can put these sex workers at risk for HIV/AIDS. For instance, a sex worker who has been raped will most likely be unsuccessful in taking the perpetrator to court. The lack of protection in these cases puts sex workers at very high risk of getting HIV/AIDS.

Despite all of this, there has been progress in places like Nairobi, Kenya, where women are taking charge of their own fate. Viviane Muasi, a female sex worker, is a peer educator with the Sex Workers Outreach Progamme. When she is not working at night, she spends most of her time advocating for HIV testing and consistent condom use. SWOP, run by the University of Nairobi and Canada’s University of Manitoba, has enabled over 3,000 women to get tested for a variety of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. During the clinic visits, medical staff hands out prevention packages to halt the transmission of HIV/AIDS. These packages include instructions for condom use, different family planning methods and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Hopefully by promoting and supporting condom use and early detection, the rates of HIV/AIDS among sex workers will greatly decrease.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: IRIN News, ADVERT
Photo: BAM

origin_of_AIDS
A group of international scientists have recently released findings that show the origin of AIDS to have been in the 1920s in Kinshasa, which is now the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Senior author of the paper and from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, Professor Oliver Pybus said of the study: “For the first time we have analyzed all the available evidence using the latest phylogeographic techniques, which enable us to statistically estimate where a virus comes from. This means we can say with a high degree of certainty where and when the HIV pandemic originated. It seems a combination of factors in Kinshasa in the early 20th Century created a ‘perfect storm’ for the emergence of HIV… ”

The study, led by Oxford University and University of Leuven scientists, gives three probable factors of how the disease spread: population growth, sex trade and railway access.

The population of Kinshasa grew rapidly in the 20s, as male laborers piled into the city for work, causing the ratio of men to women to raise two to one. Because of the rise in males, sex trade began to increase. Because HIV is primarily transmitted through sex, sex trade increasing from population growth can be seen as a highly probable cause.

The study also noted that by the end of the 1940s, millions of Africans were traveling through Kinshasa by way of railway. Once some became infected with the virus, it spread throughout the DRC, Africa and eventually the world.

This study comes after news broke that HIV strings from chimpanzees and their infected meat transmitted the disease to African hunters through “the hunting or handling of bush meant.”

Since the 1920s, the infection has spread rampant and as of today, has infected close to 75 million people worldwide.

– Kori Withers

Sources: BBC, AOL, EurekAlert
Photo: Flickr

disease in africa
At the recent U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, President Bush spoke to the spouses of African leaders about the need for greater efforts in combating not only AIDS, but cancer as well.

Bush has spent a great majority of his time after being president fighting AIDS and getting treatment to women in order to prevent breast and cervical cancer in Africa. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s 2013 annual report stated that in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 93,000 women develop cervical cancer per year and an estimated 57,000 women die annually because of it. In the region, 94,000 cases of breast cancer a year have been found with 50,000 women unable to win their battle with breast cancer.

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is an organization that improves existing healthcare programs in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Organizing members of this partnership include the George Bush Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These groups collaborate to find improvements in preexisting health programs which aim to reduce the number of deaths caused by breast and cervical cancer.

While Bush was in office, he headed a program for the fight against AIDS called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR fights AIDS globally and provides testing, counseling and medical treatment. In 2003, PEPFAR pledged $15 billion in spending on combatting AIDS through 2008. This was three times the amount the U.S. had spent fighting this disease before.

In his African Summit address, Bush urged the importance of collecting better data, and improving treatment and education. He also urged the importance of avoiding discrimination when it comes to healthcare given that, in Uganda, homosexuality is criminalized.

Bush explained that “Applied with clear goals and accountability, this saturation approach presents an amazing opportunity. It also requires something from the rest of us. It is impossible to direct help where it is needed most when any group is targeted for legal discrimination and stigma. Compassion and tolerance are important medicines.”

– Kori Withers

Sources: New York Times, Political Ticker, World Health Organization, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon 1, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon 2, Huffington Post
Photo: Look to the Stars

decriminalization-of-drug-sex-work
In its continued, seemingly amplified crusade against HIV, the WHO spoke out from convention by advising nations all over the world to reform their laws that inadvertently enable the spread of HIV/AIDS. Most notably, the WHO advised for the decriminalization of drug use, especially intravenous drugs, and protections for sex workers.

The report, titled “Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations,” was released in July 2014 and contained the following declarations:

• “Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.”

• “Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit needle and syringe programmes) and that legalize opioid substitution therapy for people who are opioid-dependent.”

• “Countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.”

• “Countries should work towards legal recognition for transgender people.”

• “Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize same-sex behaviors.”

Each of the groups addressed in these statements, including sex workers, drug users, homosexuals and transgendered people, falls into the category of “key populations” at risk for HIV/AIDS. These populations also typically face laws and cultures that ostracize their lifestyles, leading to cycles of abuse and incarceration.

These factors create a formula that consistently punishes populations most in need of sound medical counseling, preventative education and medical treatment. As stated in the report, the key populations in question are “disproportionately affected by HIV in all countries and settings.”

Another notable aspect of the WHO’s report lies less in the substance of the text itself, but more so in the fact that it directly opposes the United Nation’s stance on the same issues. According to The Economist, the U.N. still holds to the 1988 position that every nation should dictate the criminalization of intentional possession and use of illegal narcotics under domestic law as it sees fit.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime shares the dissenting attitude toward the WHO’s report, as well, the idea that rehabilitation and societal reintegration tactics should be considered as alternatives to criminal sanctions.

Carefully worded, the report does not call for the legalization of activities such as drug use, but urges legal reform that focuses on rehabilitation versus criminalization.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, the senior adviser on strategy, policy and equity in the WHO’s Department of HIV Dr. Andrew Ball stated, “The guidelines recommend decriminalization of a range of behaviors of key populations…on public health grounds, so as to improve access to and utilization of health services, to reduce the likelihood of the adoption of riskier behaviors and to reduce incarceration rates.”

The HIV/AIDS world crisis is one of those issues that transcend border lines and cultures. The WHO has noted an increase in the number of cases in large cities in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. However, the poorest countries with the harshest incarceration laws, prominent cultural stigmas or least resources available are positioned to strongly heed the WHO’s reform considerations as they apply to each nation individually.

Edward Heinrich

Sources: io9, Washington Blade, The Economist, Huffington Post, PRI
Photo: io9

global aids crisis
Documentaries are among the most preeminent forms of learning. Melding visuals with the amusement of storytelling, documentaries weave truths together to inform and entertain. Though there are a bevy of subjects covered by documentaries, the medium is also being used to educate the world about the global AIDS crisis.

While the following three films are only a brief selection, they reflect the myriad of countries afflicted with AIDS. Each documentary reflects a different country and the different problems each faces.

1. Blood Brother

The documentary starts with footage of a young Indian girl dying. Her body is limp and her eyes are void of life as her father tries to take her to the hospital. While this would seem to be the start of a morose film, “Blood Brother” is anything but. The film follows Rocky, a native Ohioan, to Chennai, India. Having already been to India on a volunteering trip, he brought his filmmaking friend, Steven, to see the children with whom he fell in love.­

The children live in an AIDS orphanage in a small rural village. Many have contracted the disease from their parents. For sickly children, though, they lead vivacious lives. There are many sad, trying stories, including a family whose father committed suicide after his wife got the AIDS diagnosis.

Rocky routinely cares for the children’s wound and sores. He has unconditional love for these orphans, many of whom are ostracized by the village after AIDS stigmatizes them.

Though the film largely focuses on Rocky’s rapport with the children and the struggles of living with this disease, there’s an undeniable celebration of life.

2. The Blood of Yingzhou District

Set in the Heshing Province in China, this documentary by a Hong Kong filmmaker follows several poor families who were affected by the epidemic.

Some children have AIDS passed on from their parents, others are orphans from the disease, yet both are equally stigmatized. Children like Nan Nan and Gao Jun are alienated from their extended families for fear of the impact AIDS might have.

Many of these rural villages are full of myths about AIDS. The populations are generally uneducated on the subject and the manner of transmission.

The Fu’ai Charity helps children like Gao Jun be placed in foster homes and creates a sense of family for these otherwise ostracized children. Introducing them to other HIV positive people helps to form a community and Gao Jun shows progression with the attention and contact.

3. Tapestries of Hope (Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse)

While by far the most graphic on this list, “Tapestries of Hope” chronicles a rape survivor’s journey to visit the women and girls of Girl Child Network. Located in Zimbabwe, a population decimated by AIDS, many of these girls were raped as children and contracted the disease.

Zimbabwe is hotspot for HIV/AIDS for two main reasons. Firstly, unauthorized traditional healers have perpetuated the myth that having sex with a virgin will cure the disease. Secondly, sanctions on the nation have prohibited access to treatment drugs.

Not only is there an HIV pandemic, but also a rash of violence against women that has not been properly addressed.
While rehabilitating and healing the girls, Girl Child Network is fighting against the decades-old myth to protect girls and enact justice for them.

These three films just show individual facets of the global AIDS epidemic. Poorer, rural areas are particularly afflicted because of the inaccessibility of many medications and the urban myths that prevail. Combating the ostracism and stigma associated with AIDS is just as important as combating the disease. The documentaries shed light on the people living with the disease and after watching these films echo a common plea to raise awareness.

Note: All of these films are available for viewing on Netflix.

-Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Tapestries of Hope, Blood Brother, Blood of Yingzhou District
Photo: WN

sterilization
Our knowledge of HIV/AIDS is continuously expanding 30 years into the AIDS epidemic. Researchers are discovering that–given the right treatment and precautions–people living with HIV can greatly reduce the risk of transmission to partners and can even safely conceive and give birth. Yet many health care providers in Central America are misguidedly pressuring HIV-positive women into sterilization.

Tamil Kendall, a Harvard School of Public Health research fellow with 10 years of experience in gender and HIV in Latin America, reports that “health care providers [in Central America] are expressing the view that living with HIV means that you don’t have reproductive rights, that you can’t choose the number and spacing of your children, that you can’t choose the contraceptive method that you would like to use.”

Kendall is the driving force behind a recently-published study on health care practices in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, one which reveals antiquated attitudes toward HIV and troubling reproductive rights violations throughout the region.

The results show that, out of the 285 women studied across the four Central American countries, 23 percent have been pressured by health care professionals to go through a sterilization procedure. Rates in individual countries range from 20 percent in Nicaragua to 28 percent in Mexico. Additionally, only half of the women surveyed reported being told that an intervention in the form of antiretroviral drugs exists, which can reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus by 98 to 99 percent.

Women with HIV are coerced by doctors and nurses unethically. Kendall reports that one Mexican woman was sterilized while under anesthetics during a Caesarian section. Another young mother from El Salvador claimed that doctors refused to perform a Caesarian until she consented to sterilization. Many women are told that another pregnancy will result in their own or their child’s death.

Kendall’s study reveals that socioeconomic status and ethnicity do not play a part in this kind of discrimination and that it is driven solely by an HIV-positive diagnosis.

Yet amid this troubling news, there is reason for optimism. As Kendall observes, “There is some promising research… indicating that health care providers are becoming increasingly aware of the possibility of preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as sexual transmission with antiretroviral therapy—and that this knowledge is starting to transform attitudes.”

Moving forward, she recommends that health care providers be held accountable for their actions in courts, and that policy makers become aware of new research on HIV/AIDS and begin investing more in reproductive health and women’s rights.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health
Photo: Fabulous-City

hiv/aids cure
Despite the death of leading AIDS researchers on flight MH17, there is reason for hope in the field of AIDS research. Progress has been made in the search for the HIV/AIDS cure. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark performed an experiment in which they gave six HIV-infected people an old cancer drug called romidepsin.

Romidepsin is a last-resort treatment for certain types of skin cancers and lymphomas. It works by blocking enzymes created by cancer cells, thus preventing them from multiplying and encouraging healthy cell growth. Side effects of romidepsin include irregular hearing rhythm, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anemia.

The drug could possibly be used in AIDS treatment because the HIV virus settles deep within hidden “reservoirs” in cells where it lies dormant, making it impossible for current HIV medications to reach it. When romidepsin was administered to people with HIV/AIDS, the drug was successful in bringing the dormant virus out of hiding. The hope is that when the sleeping virus is unearthed, the body’s immune system will be able to fight against and eliminate it. Currently, there are medications available to keep AIDS in check, but if a patient stops taking his or her medication, the virus emerges from these reservoirs and wreaks havoc on the body unless treatment is started again.

In Oslo, the biotechnical company Bionor Pharma has been studying romidepsin along with another drug known as vacc-4x, which is administered after romidepsin has been used. The vacc-4x is supposed to aid the immune system in killing the virus. This process has been named the “kick-and-kill” method.

Bionor Pharma has announced that they have completed the pilot study for the kick-and-kill method and are ready to move on to the second part of the study. The second stage will involve treating HIV-infected patients with romidepsin and vacc-4x for three weeks. After three weeks, all HIV treatment will cease and the patients will be monitored to see if the virus rebounds.

While AIDS can be a manageable disease for people with access to quality health care, it affects 35 million people worldwide and only 13.9 million are receiving treatment. Most people affected by AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in five people have HIV/AIDS. If people infected with the HIV virus leave it untreated, it will develop into AIDS, and because treatment is daily and expensive, most people in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford it. Many advancements have been made to treat HIV/AIDS since the 1990s, but just as important as finding a cure is making sure all those infected have access to it.

Taylor Lovett

Sources: American Cancer Society, Avert, Boston Globe
Photo: iFarmaci