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

 Preventing HIV in KenyaA new, injectable antiretroviral drug, cabotegravir (CAB LA), may have significant potential for preventing HIV among sub-Saharan African women. In November 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported trial results of the HIV Prevention Trials Network Study (HPTN 084), testing the use and effectiveness of CAB LA in preventing HIV among more than 3,200 HIV-negative, sexually active women across east and southern Africa. This drug could significantly lower prevalence rates and help in preventing HIV in Kenya, which has one of the largest HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world.

Cabotegravir or CAB LA

CAB LA, a long-acting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen, requires an injection only every eight weeks and has been shown to be 89% more effective in preventing HIV than taking a daily oral antiretroviral PrEP, a generic pill currently marketed as Truvada.

Kenya’s HIV Epidemic

The first case of HIV in Kenya appeared in 1984. By 1990, HIV was one of the leading causes of illness in the country. At its highest point, more than three million Kenyans lived with AIDS. Since then, the government of Kenya decreased the prevalence of HIV from its 10.5% peak in 1996 to 5.6% in 2012. By 2019, the prevalence rate was 4.5% in adults aged 15-49. However, certain vulnerable populations within Kenya are more at risk of getting HIV, such as women. Males have an estimated prevalence rate of 4.5% while the rate for females is 5.2%. Among youth aged between 15 and 24 years old, boys have a prevalence rate of 1.34% compared to girls at 2.61%.

The only option for preventing HIV in Kenya is a daily PrEP pill called Truvada. The government of Kenya first approved oral PrEP for country-wide distribution in 2015, and since 2017, has scaled up the distribution throughout Kenya. However, of the 1.5 million Kenyans living with HIV, only 26,098 (1.7%) are currently on PrEP.

Though 72% of the population had been tested for HIV, only 70% had been tested more than once. Frequent testing, at least once a year if sexually active or at least every six months if part of a particularly vulnerable population, is vital to giving care and treatment for at-risk groups.

The Potential of CAB LA for Preventing HIV in Kenya

  1. The HPTN study reported that CAB LA is nine times more effective in preventing HIV in Kenya than the Truvada pill, the current form of PrEP. The PrEP pill is only effective if taken daily and is not a standalone prevention method for other STIs or unplanned pregnancies. The new drug also does not require other forms of protection, such as condoms.
  2. This drug gives vulnerable populations more HIV options for preventing HIV in Kenya. Vulnerable populations include sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, youth and women. These vulnerable populations face stigma, which affects their ability to access PrEP pills. Because the injection is needed only once every two months, the increased discretion and ease of the infrequent injection may increase its use and thus increase the protection of those who need it.
  3. Discretion in use of the drug may be able to reach more women specifically. In combination with the stigma attached to HIV, women in Kenya face discrimination in terms of access to education, employment and healthcare. As a result, men often dominate sexual relationships, with women not always able to practice safer sex, even when they know they should. For example, in 2014, 35% of adult women (aged 15-49) who were or had been married had experienced spousal violence and 14% had experienced sexual violence. Women in Kenya find it especially difficult to take a daily pill, which significantly reduces the effectiveness of the medicine. Only 68% of Kenyan women have access to antiretroviral pills.

Though not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the developer of the drug, ViiV Healthcare, expects cabotegravir to be ready for the market by early 2021.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

What You Need to Know About the Masai Village HIV:AIDS CrisisHIV/AIDS affects the majority of African countries. Masai villages are located in Kenya, where approximately one in five adults is currently infected with HIV/AIDS. The Masai Village HIV/AIDS crisis continues to affect many, and, as a result, humanitarian organizations are working to alleviate the increasingly high infection rates.

What Does the Masai Village HIV/AIDS Crisis Look like?

HIV/AIDS infection rates are increasingly high and treatment rates are increasingly low. Of the affected 38 African countries, Kenya, the home of Masai villages, is the fifth most affected country in the world. Masai culture is greatly patriarchal, traditional and resistant toward common health practices. Marriage practices, a fundamental aspect of the Masai culture, gravely impact the Masai village members’ health. Prior to marital relationships, most girls will have sexual relations with young warriors and such relations will continue after the girls are properly married. Immediately after reaching puberty, girls are married to older men with the goal of preventing childbirth out of wedlock.

Even after marriage, most women fear seeking testing or treatment, as husbands will abandon their wives if they are infected with HIV/AIDS. Because men provide financial support, housing and food, women, understandably, do not seek appropriate treatment.

In Kenya, more than 30% of newborns are infected with HIV/AIDS and approximately half of those children die before they are 2 years old. The alarmingly high death rate is largely due to the fact that both the babies and their mothers do not seek proper diagnoses, let alone treatment. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) found that since the onset of the global HIV/AIDS crisis in 1981, 17 million children lost at least one parent from HIV/AIDS. Of those 17 million children, 91% live in Sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya.

Obstacles in Alleviating HIV/AIDS Rates

According to Doctors Without Borders, a fundamental obstacle posed by the Masai Village HIV/AIDS crisis is the unavailability of health clinics. Because Masai villages are independent of the country’s government rule, little progress can be made from African or Kenyan government forces. Masai villages are primarily controlled by a Laibon, a de facto leader of the village, who makes decisions regarding marriages, cattle, spiritual practices and health. Laibons primarily practice alternative medicine, leaving the communities with no access to HIV/AIDS treatment.

Even if there is a clinic close by, they are unlikely to have treatment. In addition to stigmas around testing, clinics do not have the antiretroviral treatments that are available in the United States. In implementing antiretroviral treatments within the United States, mortality rates have been reduced by more than 80%. But, such treatments can cost more than $9,000, which Masai village members and clinics cannot afford. Furthermore, there are numerous legal barriers preventing the production and importation of antiretroviral treatment to Kenya, specifically the rural areas of the Masai villages.

Progress for the Masai Village HIV/AIDS Crisis

The Masai village HIV/AIDS crisis has extreme implications. HIV/AIDS most commonly affects the younger, more sexually-active members of the village. Because the younger population is more physically able to partake in laborious work, the strenuous tasks that keep the villages operating cannot be completed if they are sick. Therefore, high infection rates lead to a decrease in social contribution. Without the help of younger Masai members, the villages become vulnerable to instability. For both health reasons and the function of their villages, Masai members will not be able to survive if Kenya’s infection rate remains above 4%.

Because limited progress can be made from within the Masai villages, many global aid organizations such as Adapt-A-Doctor and Kenya AIDS Intervention are paying physicians to practice in struggling countries. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders is increasing their time in hotspot countries, such as Kenya, where they provide free counseling and testing to Masai village members.

Through the efforts of external organizations and health associations, awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Masai villages is increasing. The help of such organizations in collaboration with Masai villages will lead its members to live healthier, safer and longer lives.

– Maya Sulkin

Photo: Flickr

HIV in Sri Lanka
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects 38 million people globally. Spread via the exchange of bodily fluids, it attacks cells that can help fight other infections, making people more susceptible to other illnesses. While new cases have decreased by 23% since 2010, there is still much progress that needs to be made. Fortunately, innovative countries like Sri Lanka have established extensive programs to eliminate HIV.

HIV Around the World

On a global scale, HIV primarily affects people from more disadvantaged countries with low to middle incomes. As a result, HIV often goes hand-in-hand with other humanitarian issues. A majority of countries impacted by high HIV rates also struggle with food insecurity, economic disparities and other infectious disease issues.

While no cure exists for HIV, it is treatable with antiretroviral therapy (ART). By addressing HIV with medication, HIV-positive individuals can live abundant, healthy lives and have minimal risk of passing HIV to others around them. It is essential that more people are able to become aware of their diagnosis and combat it with ART to prevent spreading it further.

Sri Lanka’s Comprehensive Efforts

Recent efforts to reduce HIV have shown some progress, with 81% of HIV-positive individuals aware of their condition. However, there is still considerable progress to be made in providing access to testing and treatment. Fortunately, Sri Lanka, a south-Asian country with more than 21 million inhabitants, has made headway in preventing and treating HIV.

The Sri Lankan government has led efforts to combat and eliminate HIV by 2025. With an admirably low HIV-prevalence rate of 0.01%, it has enacted different social measures to meet this goal. These include educating Sri Lankans on HIV, testing at-risk individuals and providing quality treatment options to those who are HIV-positive.

Some of the government’s online efforts include launching the website Know4Sure.lk. This initiative trained caregivers from the private health sector on providing testing and treatment to those with HIV, in addition to providing a number of services for Sri Lankans. The website provides anonymous appointment scheduling and at-risk assessments, with paid advertisements and influencers encouraging HIV testing.

Furthermore, the program set up a peer network to call for more testing, treatment and social awareness of HIV. Mobilizers within this network encourage peers to get tested and communicate with others via a multimedia effort. Founded on the principle that “Your Life Matters,” this movement combats the transmission of HIV by instilling hope and optimism about one’s career and livelihood. HIV is preventable and treatable as long as Sri Lankans follow safe-sex practices, get tested regularly and take preventative measures.

Success and Global Impact

Sri Lanka’s commitment to eliminate HIV has already seen success. In 2018, the nation stopped vertical transmission – the transmission from mother to child – of the virus entirely. All pregnant women diagnosed with HIV are provided with ART treatment, assuring their health and the health of their unborn child. The elimination of vertical transmission is the culmination of the steadfast, multifaceted government effort to provide testing and treatment to all men and women.

HIV impacts people on a global scale. By establishing preventative measures and treatment programs, Sri Lanka has pushed back against HIV and taken significant steps to eliminate HIV by 2025. These efforts can be an example for other countries experiencing HIV outbreaks and setbacks. Hopefully, with more government efforts dedicated to fighting HIV, the virus will soon be eliminated worldwide.

Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

HIV in the Central African Republic

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has affected millions of people around the world for many decades. If left untreated, HIV can slowly develop into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and leave those infected with a compromised immune system. Thousands of individuals have suffered from the disease or lost their life to it since the first reported case in the Central African Republic in 1984. The country has mobilized numerous efforts to combat the disease but still requires assistance to ensure that the citizens have adequate testing and access to medicine. Here are five important facts to know about HIV in the Central African Republic.

5 Facts About HIV in the Central African Republic

  1. Around 5,000 citizens die each year from HIV/AIDS in the Central African Republic. In 2018, more than 5,000 individuals died from AIDS-related causes and an estimated 110,000 citizens were living with illness. Though the infection rate still remains high, the efforts being made to stop the spread of HIV have been effective. In 2010, the prevalence of HIV in the Central African Republic was 5% and according to recent data acquired in 2018, the rate has decreased, with only 3.6% of the population living with the disease.
  2. HIV in the Central African Republic primarily affects homosexual men and sex workers. In the Central African Republic, the number of HIV infections are extremely high in the sex worker population, with a prevalence of 9.2%. Similarly, gay men are also at an increased risk for contracting the virus, with a prevalence of 25.4%. Though these two demographics make up a smaller portion of the nation’s population, the lack of testing and awareness affects every citizen in the Central African Republic. With the help of funding from other countries and organizations, the Central African Republic can begin to provide more medicine and diagnostic centers for individuals.
  3. ART can treat HIV yet is seldom available in every community. While there is no cure for the virus, there is a well-known therapy for slowing it down. The treatment for HIV is a multi-drug regime known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART can alleviate the severity of HIV if a person begins treatment after diagnosis. While ART does not kill the virus, it stops the virus from creating DNA in the fourth phase of cell formation and slows the spread of HIV in the body. However, in remote cities like Zemio, medicine and supplies are hard to find. The prevalence of HIV is more than 12% higher in remote regions than it is in the rest of the Central African Republic. The HIV-positive residents in these areas seek comfort and support in Community Antiretroviral therapy Groups (CAGs). Some preemptive strategies for HIV-prevention include condom use, using new needles and premature testing. It is imperative that the citizens, especially those already diagnosed with HIV in the Central African Republic, have suitable access to new condoms and needles.
  4. Due to the political turmoil in the Central African Republic, testing and medicine have become inaccessible to some regions. Because of the conflict arising in the country and other surrounding areas in 2013, ransacking or closing of medical centers weakened the already struggling healthcare system. The political unrest and violence that ensued also resulted in individuals with HIV to avoid seeking treatment or to stop taking their medication. With an increase in displacement, poverty levels and closing of healthcare facilities, individuals in the Central African Republic are in dire need of trained medical staff, consistent medical treatment and more testing sites. It is imperative for the citizens living with HIV in the Central African Republic that other nations continue to increase funding for testing locations, training and medicine.
  5. Other countries and organizations are helping in numerous ways. The Central African Republic depends heavily on funding from other countries to provide treatment for its citizens, with more than 90% of the money spent on individuals with HIV coming from international sources. After the political instability faced by the country in 2013, The United Nations Refugee Agency, also known as the UNHCR, assisted the healthcare facilities in rebuilding their database and providing immediate treatment for refugees and asylum-seekers. UNICEF, another global organization, also provides technical services and financial aid for the Central African Republic. With the help of UNICEF, the country can provide more testing, ARV treatment and care for pregnant women with HIV.

HIV has been prevalent in the Central African Republic since the first case was reported in 1984. While the virus impacts many people, weakening their immune systems, organizations are stepping in to help. Outside funding and support from agencies like UNHCR and UNICEF are helping reduce the prevalence of HIV in the country. 

Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr

HIV in South AfricaFollowing apartheid, South Africa became the focal point of the AIDS epidemic. Despite the rapid rise of HIV in South Africa, the governmental response was slow. During the 1980s, people often assumed that the virus spread because of the behaviors of injection drug users and gay men. However, the spread of the disease in Africa looked incredibly different since more than half of the people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa were women.

HIV and AIDS in South Africa

When HIV and AIDS started having a widespread impact on South African society and communities, President Thabo Mbeki followed the arguments of Peter Duesberg. Duesberg believed that HIV could not be the cause of AIDS. This was opposed to Western medical approaches to solve the epidemic. Moreover, Tshabalala-Msimang, the Health Minister, advocated for nutritional solutions in 2003.

Other countries tried to help President Mbeki but were unsuccessful in persuading him. Civil society groups raised grave concerns over the need for urgent action. One of the most prominent groups to raise concerns and to have the greatest impact in the region was the Treatment Action Campaign.

The Treatment Action Campaign

Zackie Achmat, along with fellow 10 activists, founded the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in 1998. Achmat was a gay rights activist living with HIV. TAC was a tripartite alliance between the AIDS Law Project and COSATU. It was formed as a response to HIV in South Africa. The organization was needed because of the lack of urgency that the government and the medical industry had in responding to the virus. 

TAC is a rights-based organization focused on getting those in need access to treatment for HIV/AIDS. TAC is technical and political in its arguments as it utilizes justifications for actions through moral, scientific and economic reasoning. Also, TAC develops partnerships with activist groups such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and ACT UP. It aids in training on ‘treatment literacy’ and initiated a more extensive peer education network. In addition, TAC formed partnerships between elites, academics, professionals and press. However, it ultimately served to strengthen the effort for the poor to advocate for themselves. TAC uses its sources for social mobilization, advocacy, legal action and education.

TAC Fight Against HIV in South Africa

TAC’s first action was to argue for the right to access medical resources, namely antiretrovirals (ARVs). The organization found an inherent fault with the World Trade Organization’s 1995 TRIPS agreement, which legally protected intellectual property and patents.

In 1998, TAC demanded that the South African government introduced a program to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT). The social movement around advocacy for PMTCT was primarily made up of predominantly poor black women living with HIV. The issue was framed as a moral issue. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was profiteering off the sale of the drug. As a result, TAC demanded a price reduction and framed it as a moral issue regarding the South African constitution. The organization succeeded in its demand for legal action.

TAC’s Success

The essential tools for TAC’s success were its use of legal resources and advocacy. TAC made legal demands of the South African government. It also collaborated with progressive lawyers, scientists and researchers to develop plans and alternative policy proposals. TAC went beyond merely advocating for the poor and based policy on the entitlement of rights. The organization has taken successful litigation measures on many occasions. The past successful cases were supported by the efforts of lawyers and TAC’s actions, which involved marches, media campaigns, legal education and social mobilization.

This was possible due to advocacy and partnerships that TAC formed and developed. The structures in which it functioned also made it possible. Article 27 of the South African Constitution took effect in 1997. It includes the right to access medical services, reproductive healthcare and emergency medical treatment.

A key component that made TAC successful was the context in which it was based. The actions of TAC would not be possible without the tools it employed that were already in place within South African infrastructure and ideology. Additionally, TAC focused on the issues of the affected people. This included economic inequity, women’s rights, post-apartheid race relations and the necessity of medication access. The Treatment Action Campaign met immediate and long-term demands for people affected with HIV by addressing inherent human rights issues. TAC was mostly successful in its response to HIV in South Africa because it mobilized the personal into the political.

Danielle Barnes
Photo: Flickr

Eliminating HIV In Kenya

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa affects adolescent girls more than any other group within the population. As a public health response, a new approach for the elimination of HIV in Kenya emerged which addresses the gender and economic inequality that aid in spreading the disease. This new approach is related to female empowerment eliminating HIV in Kenya with new effective methods.

Health Care System in Kenya

Kenya is home to the world’s third-largest HIV epidemic. Kenya’s diverse population of 39 million encompasses an estimate of 42 ethnic tribes, with most people living in urban areas. Research shows that about 1.5 million, or 7.1 percent of Kenya’s population live with HIV. The first reported cases of the disease in Kenya were reported by the World Health Organization between 1983 to 1985. During that time, many global health organizations increased their efforts to spread awareness about prevention methods for the disease and gave antiretroviral therapy (ART) to those who were already infected with the disease. In the 1990s, the rise of the HIV infected population in Kenya had risen to 100,000 which led to the development of the National AIDS Control Council. The elimination of HIV in Kenya then became a priority for every global health organization.

The health care system in Kenya is a referral system of hospitals, health clinics, and dispensaries that extends from Nairobi to rural areas. There are only about 7,000 physicians in total that work within the public and private sector of Kenya’s health care system. As the population increases and the HIV epidemic intensifies, it creates more strenuous conditions for most of the population in Kenya to get the healthcare they desperately need. It is estimated that more than 53 percent of people living with HIV in Kenya are uninformed of their HIV status.

In addition, HIV disproportionately affects women and young people. After an initiative implemented by UNAIDS in 2013 to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV through increased access to sex education and contraceptives, significantly fewer children are born with HIV. Today, 61 percent of children with HIV are receiving treatment. However, the young women (ages 15-24) in Kenya are still twice as likely to be infected with HIV as men their age. Overall HIV rates are continuing to decrease for other groups within the population, but studies show that 74 percent of new HIV cases in Kenya continue to be adolescent girls.

Female Empowerment Eliminating HIV in Kenya

Women’s empowerment is an overarching theme for the reasons that HIV is heavily impacting the young women in Kenya. A woman’s security in the idea that she is able to dictate personal choices for herself has the ability to hinder or help her well-being.
Female empowerment eliminating HIV in Kenya uses these four common conditions to eliminate HIV:

  1. Health Information – Many girls in Kenya lack adequate information and services about sexual and reproductive health. Some health services even require an age of consent, which only perpetuates the stigma towards sexual rights. Also, the few health services available are out of reach for poor girls in urban areas.
  2. Education – A lack of secondary education for young women and girls in Kenya often means that they are unaware of modern contraceptives. A girl that does not receive a secondary education is twice as likely to get HIV. To ensure that adolescent girls have access to sexuality education, the 2013 Ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Eastern and Southern Africa guaranteed that African leaders will commit to these specific needs for young people.
  3. Intimate partner violence –  Countless young women and girls have reported domestic and sexual violence that led to them contracting HIV. Something as simple as trying to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners often prompts a violent response. There has been an increased effort to erase the social acceptability of violence in many Kenyan communities. An organization called, The Raising Voices of SASA! consists of over 25 organizations in sub-Saharan Africa that work to prevent violence against women and HIV.
  4. Societal norms – Some communities in Kenya still practice the tradition of arranged marriages, and often at very young ages for girls. The marriages usually result in early pregnancy and without proper sex education, women and babies are being infected with HIV at a higher rate. In 2014, the African Union Commission accelerated the end to child marriages by setting up a 2-year campaign in 10 African Countries to advocate for Law against child marriages. Research suggests that eliminating child marriages would decrease HIV cases, along with domestic violence, premature pregnancies by over 50 percent.

Young women in Kenya face various obstacles in order to live a healthy life, and poverty acts as a comprehensive factor. Studies show that a lack of limited job opportunities leads to an increase in high-risk behavior. Transactional sex becomes increasingly common for women under these conditions, while they also become more at risk for sexual violence. An estimated 29.3 percent of female sex workers in Kenya live with HIV.

Solution

The most practical solution to tackling the elimination of HIV in Kenya combines HIV prevention with economic empowerment for young girls. The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is an organization that has worked hard at implementing strategies, and interventions across Africa that highlight women’s access to job opportunities and education. In 10 different countries in Africa (including Kenya), young women can attend interventions in which they learn about small business loans, vocational training and entrepreneurship training. One way that more women in Kenya are able to gain control over their financial resources is by receiving village saving loans. To participate in village saving loans it requires a group of 20-30 to make deposits into a group fund each week. Women within these groups can access small loans, which enables them to increase their financial skills while gaining economic independence. The Global Fund to fight AIDS has cultivated a space for numerous empowerment groups for young women out of school called the RISE Young Women Club. The young women in these clubs often live in poverty and receive HIV testing as well as sexual health education.

Overall, the global health programs that aid in the elimination of HIV in Kenya are continuously improving their strategies by including young women in poverty. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kenya steadily sees progress thanks to the collective efforts of programs that empower young women.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS Prevention in Zambia

Antiretroviral therapy in Zambia has been one of the most effective HIV/AIDS prevention strategies in recent years. Thanks to the efforts of the CDC and the Zambian government, the spread of HIV/AIDS has decreased steadily by 13 percent since 2010.

HIV/AIDS Prevention in Zambia – Strategies

  • Education and Awareness: The effective response and resource allocation from the Zambian government through early HIV testing had a profound effect on the stigma surrounding the virus, encouraging more people to get tested. To that end, the government implemented the GIPA policy, emphasizing equality in medicine free from discrimination. In addition, the National Health Services Act is a government policy aimed at strengthening the structural power of Zambia’s medical field to increase its influence on rural communities. Aside from spearheading research, the act more clearly defines Zambia’s medical infrastructure with a power structure to allocate resources as effectively as possible. Integrating these government programs into the heart of Zambia’s most impoverished communities decreases the chances of an outbreak.
  • Antiretroviral Therapy: As mentioned above, the CDC is also active in Zambia, focusing on early antiretroviral therapy in highly affected areas like the Copperbelt and the western provinces. Within these parameters, 89 percent of those who began treatment immediately are less likely to spread the virus. Outreach programs to reach the more impoverished and marginalized groups have also been successful, with antiretroviral therapy increasing among children from 23 percent in 2009 to 79 percent as of 2019. The government has also promoted the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily course of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) taken by HIV-negative people which reduces the risk of contracting the virus.
  • Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission: Through the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission) plan, Zambia has made great strides aimed at preventing the spread of the virus from mother to offspring by providing lifelong antiretroviral therapy in Zambia. According to the CDC, through early education and effective policy implementation, the health protection agency has prevented 98 percent of HIV-exposed babies from contracting the virus.

Final Thoughts

The lack of access to basic health care and a comprehensive understanding of how HIV spreads, especially in rural communities, produces a hostile environment where exposure risk increases. Furthermore, high poverty and unemployment levels create a shaky foundation where socio-economic growth is key to eliminating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia. However, increased government spending has sprouted new testing facilities in rural areas, providing quality service where “…the Government is scaling up social protection by increasing allocations to the Social Cash Transfer (SCT) and Food Security Pack (FSP) program[s] and other poverty mitigation measures.”

The key to a structural change in Zambia’s HIV epidemic lies partially in assisting Zambia’s fairly large impoverished community. In addition, antiretroviral therapy in Zambia continues to be a focal point of the government’s long-term plan to eliminate the virus with increased spending on antiretroviral therapy and sex education in a bid to secure more prosperous futures for its citizens.

Adam Townsend
Photo: Pixabay

Venezuela's Failing Economy
People know Venezuela as one of the most diverse environments in the world because of its natural features, landscape and wide range of wildlife. Venezuela has massive oil reserves and ranks in the top list among countries such as Saudia Arabia, Canada and Iran, making it the most urban country in Latin America. However, in only approximately six years, the country has seen a drastic economic decline. Venezuela’s failing economy has placed the country in headlines across the world. This article will highlight a few casualties resulting from Venezuela’s financial crisis, as well as evaluating its causes.

The Impacts of Venezuela’s Economic Crisis

The extended effects of Venezuela’s economic crisis are hitting those who choose to remain in the country the hardest. Venezuela’s failing economy has led to a severe shortage and rationing of resources, including food, water and electricity. Despite the country being oil-rich, many Venezuelan’s are questioning why they are struggling. “It’s so unfair; we are such a rich country. It’s not fair that this is happening,” Jakeline Moncada told the Washington Post.

Many turn to natural water reserves despite safety concerns as these reserves often come from sewage drains leading to the spread of preventable diseases. Meanwhile, frequent power outages have caused water sanitation facilities to cease proper function. Physicians have noticed an increase in illness that commonly results from contaminated water and food, such as amoebiasis.

Estimates determine that more than 60,000 Venezuelans who started treatment for HIV now lack access to antiretroviral medications as a result of Venezuela’s failing economy. Many Venezuelan’s that could afford medical services before, now experience challenges attempting to access medical and health services. As a result, those dependent on medications must make costly trips to neighboring countries or hope to find donated medicines from organizations outside of the government.

As Venezuela’s economy has drastically decreased, a survey that the country’s top universities conducted estimated that more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. As the country experiences hyperinflation of 1.7 million percent, many families cannot afford to feed themselves more than one meal a day. Various organizations have ceased publishing the statistics of the country after specific data showed significant negative changes. For example, The Health Ministry stopped reporting data in 2017 after reports indicated a high rise in infant mortality rates. After the inflation rates suddenly rose, Venezuela’s central Bank discontinued publishing its figures in 2016. In this instance, Venezuelan organizations stopped sharing information once the statistics showed unfavorable characteristics.

Accessibility

Venezuela’s failing economy has led to difficulty accessing resources like medicare, and as a result, nearly 10 percent of the Venezuelan population is emigrating to other countries. Although Venezuelans are having a few problems getting out of the country, there has been a more significant challenge getting resources in. The military has restricted many resources from passing through its borders or at least the areas where they have the right to. The Pemón community, which borders along Brazil, has spoken in support of permitting assistance through its territory. This region, known as La Gran Sabana, also contains the only paved crossing between the two countries.

When Nicolás Maduro became president in 2015, many nations did not consider him the country’s leader but rather Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader. As a result, Maduro severed the remaining diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. as well as ceasing the accessibility of aid into Venezuela. Maduro has resisted outside assistance, describing the efforts as the United States desiring to meddle in Latin American affairs. However, many believe that the sudden decline results from mismanagement of funds and corruption.

Venezuela has several countries willing to provide support as it endures this period of financial difficulty. It will only receive this aid if its government allows, though, as it regulates the resources that pass through its border. Once nations can establish a common interest and agree on how to address the issue, Venezuela’s reconciliation can begin.

Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr

 

Cure for HIV
HIV/AIDS affects nearly 37 million individuals around the world every day, with close to 5,000 new infections daily. The virus’ reach extends around the world, affecting individuals in all six habitable continents. However, new research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center indicates that there may now be a cure for HIV. The journal, Nature Communications, published this research on July 2, 2019, and it has major implications; such a cure could bring relief to countless millions of individuals who currently suffer from the virus.

Treatment Development

Using mice as test subjects, researchers utilized a “long-acting, slow-effective release” antiretroviral (referred to as LASER ART) therapeutic strategy in conjunction with gene-editing (done with a tool called CRISPR-Cas9) to remove the HIV DNA from the mice’s cells. The HIV virus replicates by inserting its genome directly into the host cell’s genome. The LASER ART treatment stopped the HIV virus from replicating, while the gene-editing removed the HIV DNA from the infected genomes. Together, the two therapies completely removed HIV in roughly one-third of the mice tested. While that number may seem low, researchers say that there is potential that the treatment could be 100 percent effective on mice within two to three years. These results are a promising step towards a human cure for HIV.

HIV/AIDS Reduction & Potential Roadblocks

HIV affects millions of individuals every day around the world. Over 70 percent of affected individuals reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these individuals do not have the financial means to purchase HIV/AIDS treatments; given this, it is of the utmost importance to have a cheap, efficient, alternative solution to cure HIV/AIDS.

While the issue of HIV/AIDS is very prevalent in a number of countries, many positive steps have moved towards the reduction of disease prevalence in recent years. Such positive steps have included preventative measures such as educating individuals about HIV transmission as well as on the benefits of using condoms during sexual intercourse. There has also been work done to help increase the availability of health services that can give individuals a proper HIV diagnosis (roughly 50 percent of individuals with HIV do not know that they have the virus). The push for a cure, however, has proved difficult, and while this latest innovation brings great promise, there are some potential roadblocks to implementation. Assuming that humans can use the treatment, researchers must still access whether it will work for those in rural areas where the disease is often most prevalent. Finding an effective treatment is only one part of the problem. There is still a lack of trained individuals and sufficient infrastructure to help administer the treatments currently available and a cure for HIV will not solve that part of the problem.

Potential Impact on Global Poverty

If development goes smoothly, this new treatment has incredible potential to solve one of the biggest problems currently plaguing both the developed and developing world. While the treatment requires a lot of testing and work, researchers have taken an important step towards curing a disease that many previously believed to be incurable. In time, HIV may no longer be a lifelong burden, but rather something that someone can eradicate with two simple injections.

– Kiran Matthias
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