UNAIDSUNAIDS and United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) collaborated with faith-based organizations (FBOs) in East Africa to launch a two-year initiative to strengthen their capacity to respond to HIV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: UNAIDS, PEPFAR Report
Photo: Flickr

UNLV’s New Research on HIVResearchers from the University of Nevada Las Vegas have begun working on new research on HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, by finding ways to stop the virus from infecting human cells.

UNLV has already earned several financial grants for the research, including one from the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers are looking at genetic codes called minimotifs that direct cellular function. Their goal is to understand how the codes can help cells fight off HIV by blocking the virus from interacting with the cells.

“We chose HIV as our model system because we know viruses depend solely on cells to live,” said Kiran Mathew, a researcher at UNLV, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal. “It’s a great model system we can use to test out the effects of (the codes) in the cell.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.2 million Americans were infected with HIV as of 2012, with roughly 50,000 new cases each year.

By the end of 2014, close to 37 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and about 15 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy. The World Health Organization cites sub-Saharan Africa as the most affected region by HIV/AIDS globally with 26 million people infected in 2014. The region also accounts for almost 70 percent of the global total of new HIV infections.

There is currently no cure for HIV. The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 25 antiretroviral drugs to help fight infections and improve quality of life for patients. With successful treatment, HIV infection can become a chronic, manageable disease. But therapy must be life long and there are limitations to diagnosis, treatment and care in geographical areas that are most heavily affected.

The promising new research coming out of UNLV might help develop new HIV drugs, code for other diseases and make personalized drugs specific for a patient’s genetic makeup. But first the findings must be published and patented before pharmaceutical companies could begin the process of bringing it to market where patients can benefit.

Megan Ivy

Sources: Review Journal, CDC, WHO
Photo: Flickr