Myanmar's Healthcare System Post Coup

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military seized control of the country in a coup. Following a series of raids, several democratically-elected government officials were arrested, including the president, Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the coup, many protesters have taken to the streets, resulting in more than 100 deaths on March 27 alone. Even before the coup, Myanmar’s healthcare system was in shambles. However, NGOs and other groups believe that the coup, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, will exacerbate conditions in the country. The situation is compounded by the return of 100,000 migrant workers to Myanmar in March 2021.

Effect on COVID-19 and Immunizations

Healthcare workers were among some of the first to join the pro-democracy movements. However, this has led to shortages of staff, significantly impacting healthcare service delivery. According to The New Humanitarian, “Soldiers have also occupied major public hospitals and attacked healthcare workers, including emergency responders trying to help injured protesters.” With limited healthcare services available, some doctors are volunteering their time and community groups are stepping in to bridge the gap in healthcare. “The public health system has practically collapsed,” said Andrew Kirkwood, the senior U.N. official in Myanmar, during a briefing in March 2021.

Additionally, the coup has stalled routine vaccinations for children. Due to healthcare workers joining the movement, as well as continued fighting in the remote regions, many refugees and citizens are unable to get their children vaccinated. By July 2021, close to one million children were unable to receive their vaccinations since the coup began.

Due to the fragility of Myanmar’s healthcare system, COVID-19 testing and treatment also came to halt, producing uncertainty regarding Myanmar’s vaccination rollout amid the coup. The coup and the counter-protests induced outbreaks, worsening COVID-19 and causing shutdowns. With the economic strain as well as the risk of the virus, Myanmar’s impoverished families are struggling. Fortunately, in July 2021, the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar stepped in to scale up “the provision of critical health services and COVID-19 vaccination efforts.” The U.N. Country Team is also working to increase testing rates and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination rollout while tackling the oxygen shortage.

Effect on HIV/AIDS

The coup also led to the shut down of HIV treatment programs and testing, putting many lives at risk. Before the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar implemented several programs to tackle HIV/AIDs in impoverished areas. With the ongoing conflict, it has become harder to access anti-retroviral drugs and there are concerns of shortages due to disrupted supply chains.

ICAP, a global public health NGO, with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief  (PEPFAR), is “collaborating with the community-based organization Myanmar Positive Group (MPG) to build its capacity to deliver HIV care services.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, ICAP provided “virtual conferencing software for community self-help groups” to host virtual support meetings as these services are crucial to controlling HIV in Myanmar. ICAP also provided training on using virtual software and conducting tele-counseling. During the coup, these established tools will ensure these services continue.

The Good News

Several NGOs stepped up to help Myanmar. The Myanmar Red Cross is intensifying its efforts for humanitarian assistance and healthcare. The organization reported in June 2021 that nearly 236,000 people require assistance as COVID-19 shutdowns and the coup exacerbate poverty. About 2,000 Red Cross healthcare volunteers provided frontline assistance to those injured during the protests and others in need of healthcare services. The organization also provided ambulance services.

The EU also stepped in to assist with a donation of “€9 million in emergency humanitarian aid” in April 2021. The funding will go toward “emergency health support, protection, food security and multi-sector emergency assistance” in Myanmar.

With organizations taking a stand to help Myanmar’s most vulnerable people during the coup, citizens will receive the aid they need while the country awaits the end of the widespread violence and instability.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

HIV/AIDS in Israel
With the marvels of medical technology, medical professionals can now cure most infections and diseases with a combination of treatments and pharmaceutical drugs. However, it is challenging for them to treat some viruses still. Amongst the stubborn viruses that still elude the medical communities’ ability is the HIV/AIDS virus, a diagnosis that for too many means the end of living a normal life. The effects of HIV/AIDS in Israel have been profound and COVID-19 may worsen the situation.

The Effects of HIV/AIDS in Israel

Following the first case of AIDS in the 1980s, the world bore witness to an epidemic that swept the globe in an unprecedented manner. From 1981 to 2010, Israel reported nearly 10,000 cases, with around 7,000 of them still ongoing in the country. People living with HIV/AIDS in Israel fall into some of the most vulnerable groups in society. This includes injecting drug users and immigrants. Israeli immigrants, often from countries like Sudan, China and Eritrea, often face obstacles receiving treatment for AIDS. While testing is free, the pathway to HIV/AIDs drugs remains expensive and out of reach for many. This creates a socioeconomic divide on who has access to treatment and who does not. According to a report by the Israeli Task Force, many immigrants are unaware of their access to free testing.

COVID-19 Compounding Consequences

Since the beginning, nation-states have strived to mitigate the effects of the HIV/AIDS virus on their populations. Communities most at risk often face marginalization and are disproportionately at risk of poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted services to help these groups. This has caused many to fall into poverty. The Health Ministry of Israel worries that poverty and food and housing insecurity will rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Health Ministry of Israel is collaborating with other government sectors to create and strengthen initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS. For example, needle exchange programs, homeless shelters and meals all function as efforts to combat the effects of HIV/AIDS in Israel. Health officials in these programs are now essential as the government prepares for a rise in cases.

The Good News

As a result, Israel is taking steps in the right direction to fight HIV/AIDS. Within society, a conservative outlook on sex and the religious practice of circumcision keep the numbers relatively low. In addition regional cooperation inside of Israel with IGOs like the UN and WHO have made workshops and collaboration with Israeli NGOs and the Jerusalem AIDS Project. Israeli researchers are some of the world’s foremost pioneers and drivers of HIV/AIDS vaccine research and in 2019 introduced a ‘mosaic’ vaccine that identifies and responds to more variant strains of the HIV virus. Though HIV/AIDS is still a prevalent issue, Israel is making great strides in combating the virus.

– Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in JordanForearms of Change Center to Enable Community (FOCCEC) is an NGO based in Amman, Jordan, working to help people with HIV/AIDS in Jordan. Through collaborative efforts with several Jordanian health service providers and partners, FOCCEC provides HIV-positive people with access to treatment and care resources. Through a variety of services, FOCCEC aims to support an often underserved and stigmatized community.

HIV/AIDS in Jordan and the MENA Region

With an HIV prevalence rate of 0.1%, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the fewest HIV cases per capita in the world. In Jordan specifically, this rate is less than 0.1% and the new case count is fairly low. Between the beginning of 2020 and February 2021, Jordan reported 21 new HIV cases. HIV cases do not occur evenly among populations in the MENA region. Sex workers and people who use injectable drugs are at an elevated risk of contracting HIV. However, the total case numbers are low compared to other regions.

While HIV impacts few people living in Jordan, those who are HIV-positive often experience stigma and lack access to proper medical treatment. A survey of Jordanian women found that more than 70% would not want to purchase vegetables from someone with HIV. Instead of receiving medical care, solitary confinement is common among incarcerated individuals with HIV/AIDS in Jordan who are not Jordanian nationals.

Non-citizens may be less likely to seek treatment because of legal concerns. Jordanian healthcare providers are required to report the HIV status of patients to the Jordanian government. The Jordanian government typically deports non-nationals who test positive for HIV. Jordan’s deportation policies impact asylum seekers needing HIV treatment. In early 2020, an HIV-positive Iraqi refugee did not seek treatment because he feared deportation.

FOCCEC Supports HIV-Positive People

FOCCEC works to help people with HIV access testing services and assists in navigating the treatment process. The organization travels outside of Amman to regions of Jordan such as Irbid, Mafraq and Zarqa to increase people’s access to HIV testing services.

Following individuals’ diagnoses, FOCCEC provides treatment and counseling services. It also helps patients with other sexually transmitted diseases. FOCCEC strives to ensure that refugees and non-Jordanians can access HIV treatment services. It also offers monetary support for patients with financial barriers to treatment as a way of making healthcare accessible and affordable.

Preventing HIV Transmission in Jordan

Historically, most cases of HIV/AIDS transmission occurred in other countries. However, local transmission is increasing, particularly among people 20-24 years old. New HIV/AIDS cases are also common in people aged between 30-39, representing 25% of new HIV/AIDS cases in Jordan.

FOCCEC implements programs to improve HIV awareness in Jordan, an initiative that could help reduce local transmission rates. A survey of young adults in Jordan concluded that only 25% of respondents knew that condoms help prevent HIV transmission, suggesting that young Jordanians could benefit from better education on HIV transmission and protection.

FOCCEC is a change-driven organization working to create a world where vulnerable communities in Jordan can access the resources needed to meet their medical and social needs. Through its efforts, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Jordan can reduce even further.

Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

Economic and Educational Disparity
As economic vulnerability is an important risk factor for HIV, economic empowerment projects are becoming an increasingly common measure for HIV prevention and mitigation. Stakeholders are primarily concerned with the effects of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. However, concerted efforts have begun to improve their living conditions by finding sustainable ways to remove economic and educational disparity and improve their economic status.

Connections between economic and educational disparity and HIV status remain complicated. Few studies have linked involvement in economic empowerment methods and HIV outcomes for young women. Therefore, the exploration of effective interventions must go beyond the healthcare sector to further address the linkage between HIV risks and economic and social factors.

Furthermore, strong stigmatization of the disease persists in sub-Saharan Africa in addition to poor awareness of HIV transmission and preventive initiatives. This increases the need to improve HIV-related knowledge in the region for future prevention strategies. Thus far, initiatives to improve HIV-related awareness in sub-Saharan Africa have included a broad range of information-dissemination methods, including the use of means that can easily reach the vulnerable populations, such as mass media or community-based social cohesion methods.

The significant social determinants of HIV require more comprehensive educational interventions. These interventions became designed in light of social- and gender-inequity-based theories. These include social norms theory, the social constructivist theory of gender and the theory of gender and power. Furthermore, approaches focused on behavior theories have undergone wide use in interventions aimed at improving HIV-related knowledge, as experts have found that HIV-education interventions, when combined with behavioral change components, correlate with a higher probability of eventual implementation of preventive behaviors.

The Current Landscape

Implementation issues in HIV-education interventions became neglected. The sub-Saharan region of Africa suffers from a lack of HIV education because this region has the highest rates of education exclusion and the highest out-of-school rates for all age groups in the world. A disproportionate number of young children attend school for a short while and quickly drop out. Around 20% of children from 6 to 11 years old are out of school in addition to 34% of children between 12 and 14 years old. According to UIS, 60% of teenagers from 15 to 17 years old remain unenrolled in school.

These statistics show that HIV-education interventions do not always have wide distribution. This results in few youths receiving education from these programs. Thus, how to deliver effective HIV/AIDS education in sub-Saharan Africa is worth discussing.

Current trends in sub-Saharan Africa indicate that digital education is getting traction even though technological barriers persist. Many perceive digital education as not only a better form of learning but also as a cost-effective way to broaden educational opportunities. The rapidly growing population is exploding with demands for education. Countries are increasingly embracing digital tools to increase access to education and improve educational and social equity.

According to World Bank Education, the learning crisis, which resulted from learning poverty, started long before the COVID-19 pandemic. With the spread of COVID-19, 1.6 billion children and youth are out of school. Thus, it has become more and more urgent to prepare students in low-resource areas for digital learning. This is so they have an opportunity to gain healthcare knowledge, especially the knowledge of COVID-19 treatment and HIV prevention.

Educational Radio Programmes

Educational radio programming can be an excellent tool to keep children from disadvantaged areas engaged in HIV-knowledge acquisition. It enables disadvantaged populations to access the information they need to achieve sustainable development. Many of these radio programs aim to improve regional development. Community radio platforms became promoted to encourage local development. Many villages have limited access to information about education and nutrition. Radio programs allow them to study and improve their living conditions.

UNESCO, which set up multi-collaborations with low-resource countries, stated that these countries rely heavily on the radio (93%) and “the use of radio and television broadcasts as distance learning solutions is a powerful way to bridge the digital divide in the education sector and reach the most marginalized learners.” Previous research and studies have focused on how the radio programs have developed in recent years, but these studies have neglected the application of radio and have rarely directly studied how people use the radio, and specifically how radio platforms can be effective educational tools.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa seek to develop into emerging nations by 2035 and are setting policies and goals. For example, in Cameroon, the government has prioritized Information Communication Technologies (ICT) development in the economic, culture and education domains in all state sectors, with a specific focus on ICT in the education domain. It encouraged programs consisting of agriculture, health and rural and urban development content for a mass audience. Many see radio programming as a way for Cameroon to achieve overall development.

Educational Equity and Digital Learning

Still, a portion of the population in the rural areas – for example, 42% of the population of Cameroon – cannot receive national radio services. Young adolescents in these rural areas are still in a more disadvantaged position than those in urban districts because they are unable to receive important information.

Therefore, policymakers ought to develop a short- or long-term digital learning arrangement and evaluate their systems’ capability to support a digital learning paradigm that incorporates a mixture of technologies and delivery mechanisms. It is also critical for policymakers to collaborate with outside stakeholders such as EdTech companies, local broadcast centers and private radio stations to ensure the accelerated growth of the designated digital learning modality. Dispersing economic and educational disparity should always be the priority among all planning efforts.

Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

Children in Pakistan
Pakistan is a mostly Muslim country between Afghanistan and India in South Asia. The country gained independence in 1947 and the government operates as a parliamentary democracy. In recent years, the country has adopted Sunni Islam’s essence, with Northern Pakistan facilitating a sanctuary for various Islamic extremist groups. The life expectancy in the country averages 67 years. In 2015, an Asian Development Bank report determined that 24.3% of Pakistanis live below the poverty line and UNAIDS claimed that 190,000 Pakistani are HIV positive. The organization also stated that the number of deaths from HIV cases has increased by 385% since 2010, with only 12% of patients receiving treatment. Unfortunately, the number of children in Pakistan with HIV has been significant.

Recent HIV Outbreak

Between April and July 2019, medical professionals diagnosed 735 children in Pakistan with HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the epidemic as a Grade Two Emergency. This implies a moderate approach to combating the problem since, according to WHO, Pakistan is one of the lowest spending countries when it comes to funding for health. Pakistan utilizes only 3% of its GDP for healthcare, whereas its neighbor, Afghanistan, allots 10%. Per person, Pakistan spends less than $45 on annual healthcare.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many essential health issues have received neglect. In September 2020, Lancet Global Health constructed an investigation around how the pandemic has affected other health crises. In its findings, reports determined that deaths for HIV have increased by 10% since the beginning of the pandemic. The medical system has been under stress due to the pandemic, leading to a decrease in medical support for HIV. During this time, a local reporter named Gulbahar Shaikh, who had been covering a story in Ratodero around this time, decided to have his children tested to be safe. He was reportedly stunned when his daughter, Rida, came back positive for HIV.

Solutions

In November 2019, cases of HIV-positive children in Pakistan started to emerge in Ratodero, a city just north of Larkana. In fact, reports stated that 1,132 children had HIV in Ratodero. As soon as possible, the local government sent experts to respond. During their investigations, it came to light that many of the patients did not have infected parents, which set off a red flag to officials. They later found that many of the infected children saw a doctor named Muzaffar Ghanghro. He was a cheap, in-town physician working primarily with children. Finding this, officials made Ghanghro obtain a test for HIV too. Even when his results came back positive for HIV, he denied the results.

The officials found Ghanghro fully responsible for the increase in outbreaks within children in Ratodero, and police arrested him. He spent about two months in jail but the pediatrician has not received any charges.

In 2019, $6.3 million went into funding investigations for children in Pakistan with HIV, resulting in the shutting down of 300 medical facilities in Ratodero. However, unlicensed private clinics still function on “nearly every block,” and several facilities do not even have a place for physicians to wash their hands.

Save the Children

In 2020, UNAIDS and the United Nations HIV program reported that 2.8 million individuals under 20 were living with HIV. Additionally, over 50% of those individuals were under 10 years old.

An organization fighting for the betterment of children named Save the Children works in Pakistan. Together with the National Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Network, the organization provides reputable health facility managers to implement more humane health responses. The Mothers, Newborn and Child Health Program (MNCH) is an integral part of what Save the Children offers for healthcare. The program provides improved services from households to hospitals to moms and their children. The program’s focus is on the already existing primary healthcare facilities within areas of poverty in Pakistan. The program ensures a healthier emergency and medical experience for children in Pakistan.

Save the Children also has an initiative explicitly targeting individuals with HIV/AIDS. The project consists of providing more support to the physicians practicing in Pakistan. This program provides care to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) through Community and Home-Based Care services. The service actively raises awareness on transmission causes along with referring cases to further investigations. Together with the other efforts, Pakistan hopes to change the trend of rising HIV numbers.

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Progress Against HIV/AIDS in ThailandIn the last decade, Thailand has made significant efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission and deaths, resulting in a dramatic decrease in one of the world’s most stigmatized diseases and an effective model for other countries to follow.

HIV — first identified in 1981 — is a viral infection that attacks the human immune system and spreads through bodily fluids. If left untreated, it can cause AIDS, a condition with which most people only survive a few years. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are treatments such as antiretroviral therapy that can keep the infection from progressing to AIDS.

HIV/AIDS in Thailand

The first case of HIV/AIDS in Thailand was in 1985, and the country continues to have one of the highest rates of the disease in Asia and the Pacific. An estimated 470,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and 14,000 AIDS-related deaths occurred in the country in 2019.

Like in other countries, the Thai populations most at risk for HIV/AIDS are those living in poverty or otherwise on the margins of society. These circumstances can reduce access to healthcare and testing, which is made worse by the heavy stigmatization of the disease.

Progress in Thailand

However, the Thai government has made substantial progress against the virus after making it one of the country’s prioritized health initiatives. In 2006, Thailand incorporated HIV services into its universal healthcare system, and now testing and treatment are free for anyone who might need them.

Awareness campaigns have also had a large impact on the state of HIV/AIDS in Thailand. The government has partnered with civil society groups to increase public knowledge both about the disease and preventative measures. Another important aspect of these partnerships has been specific efforts to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

Since 2010, the rate of new infections in Thailand has dropped 65%, and AIDS-related deaths have fallen 44%. These improvements have directly resulted from the efforts to increase awareness and improve access to healthcare and testing. Of the Thai population living with HIV, 80% are on antiretroviral treatment, and 78% have suppressed viral loads preventing the infection from progressing to AIDS.

Thailand is also the first country that has nearly eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. Now, less than 2% of children test positive for HIV after being exposed. This has significantly reduced the number of children who are infected and need antiretroviral care.

Future Goals

With all of this progress, the government is in a strong position to continue reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Thailand. The country still has not met UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets where 90% of those HIV positive are aware of their status, 90% are on antiretroviral treatment and 90% have suppressed viral loads. However, Thailand’s efforts remain an important international model of effective policy against HIV/AIDS.

Through its focus on decreasing the number of new infections and improving access to antiretroviral treatment, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Thailand has decreased. Along with its prioritization of spreading information and awareness about the disease and its transmission, Thailand has created an effective method for tackling HIV/AIDS.

– Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS In LiberiaAround 4.9 million people are currently living with HIV in western and central Africa, including a percentage of those living in the small African country of Liberia. With a population of 5.1 million, roughly 1.5% of Liberians aged 15-49 live with HIV/AIDS. While this sounds like a small percentage, this equates to an estimated 47,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS in Liberia, including 3,600 children.

HIV/AIDS in Liberia

While the percentage of HIV/AIDS in Liberia is lower than in surrounding countries and other regions of Africa, the country still struggles with treatment plans, education on the disease and breaking down stigma that could help prevent further spread. In 2019, UNAIDS released a comprehensive report detailing the spread and effect of HIV/AIDS in the country. The report states that only 33% of those living with HIV are receiving ART treatment. This amounts to 15,000 people currently receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), a daily medication that reduces HIV in the system. Persons with HIV who do not receive ART treatment are more likely to develop AIDS and spread the virus. Of the 15,000 receiving treatment, 763 are children, which amounts to only 21% of all infected children in the country.

Additionally, only 58% of those living with HIV know their status. Lack of education on HIV testing and little access to testing centers has led to only a little more than half of those infected knowing their status through accurate testing. This lack of education heightens the threat of further spread, putting the health and safety of the entire population at risk. HIV/AIDS is not limited to sexual encounters. It also spreads through shared drug injections and even spreads to infants through breastfeeding. Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination continue to prevent progress.

According to UNAIDS’ 2019 report, roughly 53% of those surveyed in Liberia answered no when asked if they would purchase produce from a vendor who was HIV positive. This kind of stigma and cultivated ignorance around HIV and AIDS further inhibit people from getting tested as they may fear public ridicule. The fear of a positive test prevents the country from creating accurate and beneficial response plans.

Programs and Progress

In 2017, the African Union, in partnership with UNAIDS and others, implemented a series of “catch-up plans” for countries in western and central Africa to combat these issues. These plans included a 90-90-90 goal by 2020, meaning 90% of the people will know their HIV positive status, 90% of HIV positive people will have access to ART treatment and 90% will have viral suppression. The UNAIDS’ full 2020 report for Liberia is not available yet but the 2019 report already showed improvements in the country’s fight to eradicate the disease.

Compared to a 2016 report, the percent of children receiving ART treatment rose from about 17% to 21% in 2019.  Additionally, the percentage of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving ART treatment has increased from 19.3% in 2015 to 90% in 2019. This massive increase helps prevent infants born with HIV and decreases the risk of spread through sexual partnerships. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has supported the African Union and UNAIDS’ efforts in Liberia and significantly aided in the reduction of HIV-related issues. Therefore, PEPFAR supports health and treatment facilities in four Liberian counties and supported ART treatment for 15,000 HIV-positive persons in 2020.

All these improvements show progress toward the eradication of HIV/AIDS in Liberia. These advancements bring optimism as hope for an HIV/AIDS-free country remains strong.

– Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in South Africa
Since the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) first evolved into the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the early 1980s, the virus has rapidly spread to every corner of the globe. It has infected over 65 million people worldwide. With no cure in sight, over 25 million victims have perished at the hands of the virus to date. HIV/AIDS predominantly plagues regions in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Though cases have dropped since the epidemic heights of the 1990s, this disease continues to afflict 38 million people today and remains a leading cause of death. Here is a summary of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

What is HIV/AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infiltrates and takes over the cells that protect against infections. As the body’s ability to fight viruses disappears, HIV makes the individual extremely vulnerable to additional infections or diseases. Spread through the transmission of bodily fluids, transmission most commonly occurs during the communal use of drug injection syringes and unprotected sexual activity. When left untreated, HIV can devolve into a lifetime condition called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). No cure exists for HIV or AIDS, but there are preventative measures that an individual can take, as well as treatment, drugs and therapy.

HIV/AIDS in South Africa

In 1982, South Africa was battling the apartheid that had dominated its governance for decades. This landmark transformation created tumultuous political strife that distracted national attention away from the HIV virus that was silently taking root in the gay and impoverished black communities. With drastic changes occurring in the South African government, insufficient measures failed to halt the initial handful of HIV infections from growing by 60% by 1995.

By the time that South African President Nelson Mandela first spoke about the virus, the epidemic had escalated into a public health crisis. South America became the most infected country in the world. Virus deniers and negligent governing officials let the situation further devolve throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. It was not until 2008 and a change in administrations that South Africa treated HIV/AIDS as a public health threat. The new government implemented a plan to distribute medicines and drugs, the largest step South Africa had taken since the virus outbreak 30 years prior.

Currently, efforts to fight HIV/AIDS face infrastructural and monetary difficulties. Public health resources have become sparse as the South African currency lost value. Consequently, HIV/AIDS therapy and antiretroviral treatment declined even while virus rates continue to rise.

In 2019, HIV/AIDS infected an estimated 7.7 million South Africans. That totals 20.4% of the population, with new cases occurring daily. Additionally, more than 72,000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths have occurred in South Africa. Over 70% of South African adults and 41% of minors undergo antiretroviral treatment.

Preventing the Spread

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that continues to plague South Africa may find its match in antiretroviral treatment (ART). This preventative measure is highly popular since the South African government progressed the ART program since the early 2000s. UNAID reported that 70% of South Africans living with HIV/AIDS received ART treatment in 2019, up by 50% since 2010. If an individual tests positive for HIV, they can receive ART to forestall or fully prevent the further devolution of HIV symptoms and the onset of AIDS. South Africans have invested themselves in taking advantage of the free testing. A guaranteed treatment for those testing positive increases the number of South Africans willing to obtain testing.

ART therapy particularly helps mothers with HIV by curbing mother-to-child transmission. This preventative measure has resulted in a strengthening of both mother and child health, and a decrease in birthing mortality and childhood HIV/AIDS infection.

While HIV/AIDS in South Africa remains a massive issue, one can find hope in new and evolving preventative measures. ART treatment offers an avenue to health for many infected individuals. It prevents further spread, curbs symptoms and can make healthy populations resistant to the virus. With South Africa expanding its diagnostic and treatment capabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS may live longer and healthier lives.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in The Dominican Republic
HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic is on the agenda of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and HIV/AIDS has been the focus of the Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections 2016-2021. The goal of the plan is to end HIV/AIDS in many regions of the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, by 2030.

From 2010 to 2019, HIV cases have reduced to 13 a year and the number of deaths has gone down by 4,000 over the years. Female sex workers are a portion of the population the epidemic affects; they accounted for 37% of new infections in 2019. Less than 30% of individuals do not know they have an infection and about one-third receive a late diagnosis. Over 200,000 were getting antiretroviral treatment in 2019.

HIV Diagnosis Decline

HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic has seen an advancement in health through more testing and the option of antiretroviral treatments. The options of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, have contributed to the decline of infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in the success of the decline of HIV/AIDS.

The pandemic is changing the social landscape and interaction of people through social distancing measures. Access to medical personnel has also experienced strain because of rising and new COVID-19 infections. When comparing 2019 to the current pandemic, the diagnosis of HIV has reduced by the thousands in the Dominican Republic. According to PAHO, “Self-testing is a key strategy for reaching the U.N. goal of having 90% of people with HIV know their status.”

PrEP and PEP

PrEP and PEP are two types of antiretroviral treatments that people can use to prevent HIV transmission. Individuals can take the antiretroviral treatment PrEP before HIV infection and it is available through two brands. Meanwhile, one can take PEP after an HIV infection and must take more than one medication. The CDC suggests that individuals consult with a doctor for more information. While both treatments are important, PEP offers more because sexual assault victims can use PEP or those who had a workplace accident. Advisories state that one should take PEP within three days of a dire situation and complete treatment within a month. Both treatments are highly effective with PrEP reducing HIV transmission from sex by 90% and PEP reducing risk by 80%.

HIV Self-Testing Market

The HIV self-testing market looks promising on a global scale especially with  HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Globally, there is a necessity and high demand for rapid diagnosis of HIV in many regions including Latin America. Self-testing is a better alternative because one can do it privately and it is less risky because it will prevent exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. The self-testing market will grow more between 2020 and 2025. Self-testing will experience a great impact through government investments in healthcare worldwide. The HIV self-testing kit collects samples through blood, saliva and urine. In HIV testing, blood samples provide the most accurate read. According to MarketWatch, “The self-testing market in Latin America is anticipated to reach a value of 51.24 million USD in the year 2025.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. However, despite HIV/AIDS’ prevalence, antiretroviral treatments and opportunities to self-test should result in improvements.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

3 Faith Organizations Helping HIV Orphans in Kenya
The World Bank reported that HIV/AIDS orphaned over 660,000 Kenyan children in 2019. Often having to fend for themselves, 22% of these children frequently experience hunger. Also, many orphans in Kenya exhibit signs of declining health, enroll in school at low rates and live in poverty. In response, several Christian organizations are helping Kenyan orphans receive an education, medical treatment, vocational training and wellness classes. These services allow orphans to thrive on their own once they reach adulthood. Here are three faith organizations helping HIV orphans in Kenya.

Children of God Relief Institute

The Children of God Relief Institute (COGRI) came to fruition in 1992 and works to provide services to impoverished orphans in Kenya who HIV/AIDS affects. COGRI spearheads four main projects to help orphaned Kenyans, providing services ranging from a children’s home to an internationally accredited laboratory focused on HIV/AIDS diagnosis and testing.

In the Lea Toto Project, 377 orphans received antiviral therapy (ART) and 73% of them obtained viral suppression. Only 63% of children in Kenya achieve viral suppression, which means COGRI provides quality care for its patients. Part of COGRI’S high success rate has to do with the surveillance and support patients receive. For example, COGRI monitors each child to make sure they administer their medication correctly and mentorships that orphans established helped develop self-assurance in their road to recovery.

Christian Ministries in Africa

The second faith organization helping HIV orphans in Kenya is Christian Ministries in Africa (CMIA). This ministry emerged in Nairobi in 1985 and strives to protect vulnerable African children. One of its projects, the Grace Children’s Centre, consists of four children’s homes, two of which are for healthy orphans and HIV/AIDS positive orphans.

A second project, the Nakuru GCC Boys Farm Project, offers farming classes to orphan boys. The farming courses serve several purposes, which include growing nutritious food for the boys and teaching them farming techniques. The income from surplus crops helps to fund necessities for CMIA’s Grace Children’s Centre.

Inua Partners in Hope

The Inua Partners in Hope (Inua) program came into existence in 2009 and aims to lift low-income Kenyan children out of poverty. More specifically, the program provides courses that aim to improve all aspects of a child’s life who lost one or more parents to HIV/AIDS.

Inua’s three-step program focuses on hope, life skills training and entrepreneurship. Throughout, Inua accentuates its “8 Dimensions of Wellness” for its young students:

  • Emotional: Feel comfortable discussing their sentiments with others and confront adversity in their lives.
  • Physical: Learn to become healthier with nutritious food and adequate exercise.
  • Social: Help form and sustain connections with others around them.
  • Occupational: Teach how to make a difference in the workplace and society.
  • Spiritual: Discover how to achieve tranquility and comfort.
  • Intellectual: Demonstrate how to continue learning in their everyday lives and to use their problem-solving skills.
  • Environmental: Learn to look after the environment and others around them.
  • Financial: Educate how to budget money and to become financially independent.

Inua’s program offers a variety of vocational training to older children, including hairdressing, mechanics, agribusiness, hospitality, welding and masonry. Orphans take their new skills and build businesses in their village to make a living. Additionally, these adolescents hire other struggling orphans to work in their business and teach them their newfound skills.

Looking Ahead

These three ministries are great examples of faith organizations helping HIV orphans in Kenya. Although the Kenyan government proactively attempts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, faith-based organizations stepped up to address the affected youth who struggle to make ends meet and require medical interventions. With adequate medical treatment and education, orphans in Kenya are learning how to take control of their lives and not let HIV/AIDS weigh them down.

– Samantha Rodriguez-Silva
Photo: Flickr