HIV and AIDS in Kyrgyzstan
Human rights groups and legal organizations are working to protect the rights of Kyrgyz living with HIV and AIDs. As it currently stands, in a country already plagued with poverty and inequality, those with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan experience discrimination and violence, and have inadequate access to state services. Organizations aim to change this.

Kyrgyzstan’s HIV and AIDs Epidemic

Beginning in 1996, but growing immensely in 2001, HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan rapidly spread throughout the nation. The virus was especially prevalent among the impoverished, which at the time, around 2003, affected 68% of the population. Fueled by poverty and unemployment, prostitution and injected drug use promoted the spread of HIV and AIDs.

Despite all the aid Kyrgyzstan received during the HIV/AIDs epidemic, such as when the World Health Organization (WHO) provided affordable antiretroviral drugs to the country, the government did not handle the overall HIV/AIDs crisis well. For instance, the government failed to adhere to a 2005 law passed per “international norms of eligibility” guaranteeing “social protection for people living with HIV/AIDs and social security assurance” for citizens living with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan. Instead, these people live in constant fear of losing their homes and jobs, face deportation and illegal detention as well as violence and stigma simply because of their HIV/AIDs affliction. These people need help in the form of improved access to treatment and equality.

Besides the discrimination that Kyrgyz with HIV and AIDs endure, the government did not take advantage of the WHO’s support with care protocols and control and prevention measures. The government also mismanaged the millions of U.S. dollars received from the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States Agency for International Development, the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the World Bank. This is evident in the rising number of children and adults living with HIV, with less than 500 people in Kyrgyzstan living with HIV in 2003 in comparison to 9,200 as of 2020.

Taking Action

Adilet, “the largest human rights and legal services organization in Kyrgyzstan,” and an NGO called The Public Foundation “Positive Dialogue,” are doing a lot to help people living with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan. The organizations protect their rights and provide them with legal services for free.

For example, Adilet lawyers and activists convinced the country’s Constitutional Court to allow people with HIV to adopt children and become parents. Additionally, in July 2021, they won a case for a child infected with HIV in a Kyrgystan medical institution in the mid to late 2000s, getting the child more than $20,000 in compensation.

The 10-10-10 Targets

To make further progress in the HIV/AIDs arena and to create a more “enabling environment for ending AIDs,” global organizations have presented the 10-10-10 targets:

  • “less than 10% of countries have punitive legal and policy conditions that prohibit or restrict access to services.”
  • “less than 10% of key populations and people living with HIV face discrimination and stigma.”
  • “less than 10% of women, girls, people living with HIV and key populations face violence and gender inequality.”

Organizations are hoping to reach these targets by 2025. Hopefully, with the help of groups like Adilet, Kyrgyz affected by HIV/AIDs can look to a brighter future.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Unsplash

Botswana’s Interior Conflict
Botswana is a country that people know for its relatively peaceful and politically stable environment; however, it also has a high prevalence of HIV. It has some of the highest HIV rates of any country in the world, which particularly affects Botswana’s women and children. This reality affects several factors contributing to Botswana’s society and economy, including a drastically fallen life expectancy, the death rate, the effects of the virus on the body and the age of those most affected. For more than 40 years, HIV/AIDs in Botswana has been prevalent resulting in a conflict between HIV/AIDs and economic success. Here is some information about it as well as how the country is tackling HIV/AIDs in Botswana.

HIV/AIDs in Botswana

In its article on the economic impact of AIDs in Botswana, the POLICY Project writes that the virus is “different from most other diseases because it strikes people in the most productive age groups and is essentially 100 percent fatal.” This directly impacts the economy by essentially removing people who would be productively contributing. The economic output then plummets because the loss of young, formerly able-bodied adults limits the workforce. The shortage of skilled, trained laborers impacts income distribution across economic sectors as well.

The life expectancy in Botswana has fallen drastically. Some estimates place it at 60 years in 1990, then 40 years in 2001 and about a projected 30 years as of 2010. In his memoir “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa,” Peter Godwin explained that AIDs impacts the younger generation in particular. Due to the low life expectancy that the virus creates, there are villages where the oldest members of the community are teenagers. Projections estimated that two out of every five children would become orphans by 2010, subsequently requiring state aid.

The Effects of the Virus

There are several principal costs that many people associate with having AIDs. Direct costs or physical, financial losses include medical care, treatment drugs and funeral expenses. Indirect costs, or more long-term, possibly unforeseen financial losses include lost work time, care of children who have lost their families due to AIDs and time spent searching for and hiring new workers to replace those lost to the virus. These are costs to Botswana’s economy in general, as well as to individuals and their households.

The effects of AIDs on the economy are particularly apparent in Botswana, a country that many otherwise applaud for being a lower-middle-income country that has avoided several other economic downfalls in recent years. Nevertheless, on a microeconomic level, households with AIDs in Botswana struggle to acquire basic necessities such as healthcare, education, food and shelter. Loss of employment and particularly the loss of a family’s breadwinner can begin a downward slope into extreme poverty. This then expands outwards to include the macroeconomy where businesses and firms are understaffed and have to close. Botswana’s conflict between HIV/AIDs and economic success is clearly one of the country’s greatest to date.

Solutions

Botswana has made leaps in tackling its HIV/AIDs in Botswana; however, a “one-size-fits-all approach” does not target specific high-risk groups and means reaching far fewer people. Those most at-risk –men who have sex with men, sex workers, young people and women– require individual strategies to deal with the prevalence of AIDS.

The use of condoms and sex education have played major roles in attempts to control the epidemic. The Ministry of Health and UNDP educate teachers first, who then spread their awareness to their young students. Peace Corps volunteers to Botswana work with the government and with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to better respond to the AIDs epidemic. Volunteers work in small communities addressing and educating on AIDs, with a focus on the youth.

Though no one solution exists regarding tackling HIV/AIDs in Botswana, global and regional efforts work to weaken and reverse a painful national slide. Botswana stands to gain much from meaningful efforts focused on health and the economy.

– Grace Manning
Photo: Flickr

Māori with HIV
The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people native to New Zealand. The Māori population diminished severely, from 1 million to 40,000, when European settlers came to New Zealand due to warfare and conflict. However, the current population is almost 5 million, and more than 80% of the Māori live in urban environments. Despite the rise in population and reparations from the New Zealand government to the Māori, the Māori have faced economic and social challenges and discrimination. In 2021, Te Whāriki Takapou released the first-ever report on the inequity of Māori with HIV titled “Aotearoa New Zealand People Living with HIV Stigma Index: Māori Participants Report.”

The Te Whāriki Takapou Report

Te Whāriki Takapou is an organization with a focus on the “sexual and reproductive health” of the Māori people. As a result, it has conducted research, such as in the case of the Māori participants in the report. The report centers on “HIV-related stigma and discrimination experienced by Māori people living with HIV.” The report’s main purpose is to showcase the unique experiences of Māori living with HIV and give the participants “a sense of their health and well-being compared to the general Māori population, and compared to the non-Māori study participants living with HIV.” There were 37 Māori participants in the study, which included a survey questionnaire and a peer interview. The final report utilized findings from relative research due to data limitations.

The Findings

The survey and interviews resulted in several findings. About 25% of participants revealed that they faced a violation of their rights due to having HIV or had to report if they had HIV to areas such as their workplace. Māori living with HIV also detailed that the stigma and discrimination affected their mental health and relationships, resulting in almost 33% isolating themselves and limiting their “ability to earn an income that met their needs.” On a positive note, the participants generally felt that their whānau and friends were supportive; however, many of the participants revealed that others disclosed their HIV status without their permission to other whānau and friends, and also at places such as where they work or go to school.

Several of the participants experienced some form of discrimination due to their HIV status, including experiencing verbal abuse when seeking healthcare or losing jobs. Māori with HIV experience several forms of prejudice and injustice in the healthcare sector, including having to undergo testing for HIV against their will, unequal treatment of non-related HIV care by healthcare workers and professionals violating their confidentiality. Māori women also experienced uncomfortable and unwanted pressures and advice regarding their reproductive health and pregnancies, such as sterilizations and/or abortion. The treatment that Māori people receive in and out of the healthcare system is discriminatory and unethical, which is one of the reasons why there are several calls of action within the report following the results.

Future Policy and Initiatives

Currently, there are no modern laws or policies that protect HIV-positive Māori people from discrimination (or even non-Māori who have HIV). Additionally, Te Whāriki Takapou’s study revealed that those who have been HIV-positive for two to three decades have not witnessed a reduction in discrimination. This report details several specific recommendations to stop discrimination and erase the stigma surrounding HIV; some of those recommendations include an HIV and AIDS policy and action plan, incorporating a goal to abolish the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV. Other proposals involve better quality and access to reproductive health measures and education, especially better resources for Māori women with HIV to improve their health in the long run, no-cost counseling, a better system to file HIV-related complaints and so much more. All of the recommendations center on protecting, supporting and improving the lives of Māori with HIV.

Even though the report focuses on Māori individuals who have HIV, the recommendations also advocate for non-discrimination. The Māori experience discrimination in New Zealand and HIV-positive Māori face even more discrimination and stigma, affecting not only their mental health but also their physical health. The Te Whāriki Takapou report is a loud and necessary call to action to end the HIV stigma and discrimination against the Māori in New Zealand.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan
HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan is prevalent. However, reliable data on HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan is scarce due to a lack of reporting cases and common failure to seek medical treatment. The World Bank recognizes unsafe paid sex and injecting drug users as the most likely cause of the epidemics spread. Many know Afghanistan as dangerous considering its consistent involvement in devastating wars; however, less known is the massive struggle Afghanistan faces in combating drug usage. In accordance with this, HIV/AIDS is predominantly among those who inject drugs, prisoners, female sex workers and men who have sex with men.

About HIV/AIDS

HIV, also known as AIDS, is a human immunodeficiency virus that people can transmit through bodily fluid. HIV/AIDS first emerged through human interaction with a certain type of chimpanzee located in Central Africa. HIV then spread from Africa to other parts of the world and became prevalent in the United States around 1975. HIV/AIDS can cause flu-like symptoms a few weeks post contraction before remaining dormant until progressing to AIDS. AIDS severely weakens a person’s immune system causing an increase in the likelihood of a person getting a severe illness. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS but there are medications that can help infected people live healthier longer lives. The CDC has written about the severity of HIV/AIDS stating that “without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years.” Here are some of the most common ways people can contract HIV/AIDS.

  1. Engaging in sexual intercourse without the use of a condom.
  2. Mother-to-child transmission.
  3. Sharing injecting equipment (most commonly, needles during drug usage).
  4. Contaminated blood transfusions and organ transplants.

Doing the Math

These affected populations rarely have the means necessary to seek treatment. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that “In 2017, the number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Afghanistan was estimated to be 5900…by December of 2017, 800 PLHIVs were enrolled for treatment.” This means that of the people in Afghanistan who have tested positive for HIV/AIDS, only 13.5% of them have received treatment. Furthermore, from this, one can conclude that the 5,100 people who have tested positive but have not received treatment could die within the next three years.

Disproportionate Effects on the Poor

The disproportionate effects of HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan on the poor are clear as female sex workers, prisoners and those who use injectable drugs are often living on or below the poverty line. An Open Society Foundations article explored the connection between poverty and sex work as it highlights, “The vast majority of sex workers choose to do sex work because it is the best option they have. Many sex workers struggle with poverty and destitution and have few other options for work.” This need for money to support their basic life needs drives women into prostitution putting them at greater risk for HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, refugees make up another category of impoverished individuals who end up at greater risk of contracting HIV. According to WHO, refugees are “stuck in limbo with nothing to do, under great pressure and with drugs abundantly available, many of these refugees have become addicted to drugs.”

Not only does poverty enable greater exposure to HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan, but it also prevents Afghans from affording potential treatments. Estimates for HIV/AIDS treatments run from $1,800 USD to $4,500 USD per month during a person’s lifetime. The average salary for someone living in Afghanistan converts to $18,505 USD per year, making it impossible for even middle-class citizens to pay for treatments, let alone those facing poverty.

The Good News

Afghanistan developed a National Strategic Plan to investigate and respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) outlined that this National Strategic Plan took effect in 2016 and reached its full effect in 2020. It includes five priority areas:

  1. Greater accessibility to and effectiveness of HIV prevention tools.
  2. Increase accessibility to treatment/support.
  3. Provide documentation and information to allow patients to make informed decisions on medication and treatment paths.
  4. Enable an environment that will allow the national response to HIV/AIDS to be both effective and sustainable.
  5. Strengthen and manage government programs at national and provincial levels.

Looking Ahead

The continued implementation of this plan and increased foreign aid, are helping curtail the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic over time. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan have thrown progress off track. A New York Times article explains the health care situation in Afghanistan stating that “The country’s health care has been propped up by aid from international donors. But after the Taliban seized power, the World Bank and other organizations froze $600 million in health care aid.” Major strides have occurred in Afghanistan with regards to female health and epidemics however this progress is now at risk of reversing as organizations withdrawal their aid from Afghanistan amidst the Taliban’s reign.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in VietnamThere has been a great deal of success in fighting HIV/AIDS in Vietnam in recent years. UNAIDS figures show that in 2020, new HIV infections numbered 6,100 in the Southeast Asia nation of 95 million people. This marks about a 71% reduction from the peak in 2003 and the lowest number of new infections since 1992. AIDS-related deaths fell from a peak of 9,600 deaths in 2006 to 3,800 deaths in 2020 — about a 60% reduction.

The Role of Foreign Aid

Over the years, foreign aid has advanced efforts to control HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. The United States has long been the largest donor, bilaterally through its President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and multilaterally through its contributions to the United Nations.

The U.S. began PEPFAR in 2003 when the global HIV/AIDS epidemic was near its peak severity. PEPFAR initially focused on 15 countries in which the HIV/AIDS epidemic was most out of control, including Vietnam. Vietnam received $288.7 million in assistance from the program between 2004 and 2008. This aggressive funding went a long way in helping Vietnam educate high-risk populations about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; providing antiretroviral treatment (ART) for infected persons and addiction treatment for people who inject drugs (the highest risk population).

UNAIDS 90-90-90 Goals and Beyond

In October 2014, Vietnam became the first nation in Asia to adopt the UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 initiative, which set the following aggressive goals to be reached by 2020:

  • “90% of all people living with HIV will” have a diagnosis.

  • “90% of all people diagnosed with HIV” will obtain antiretroviral treatment.

  • “90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.”

A 2020 UNAIDS report shows that  Vietnam had incomplete data for the first two goals and a 95% score for the third. The data also indicates that 66% of all people in Vietnam living with HIV were virally suppressed. UNAIDS has set new goals to reach 95% in all three areas by 2025.

The Positive Impact of Poverty Reduction

A few years before Vietnam discovered its first HIV infections in 1990, its government implemented economic reforms known as Doi Moi. These changes made the Vietnamese economy more market-oriented, which in turn, attracted foreign investments and allowed the nation to tap into globalization. The economic results were so dramatic that the IMF says Vietnam’s per capita growth of 5.6% between 1990 and 2017 was “second only to China.” More than 40 million people rose out of poverty from 1993 to 2014. According to the World Bank, Vietnam’s poverty rate now stands at less than 6% based on the purchasing power parity of $3.2 a day.

This vast reduction in poverty has no doubt helped in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. The American Psychological Association says that risky health behaviors, such as substance abuse and transactional sex work, are more likely in areas with a low socioeconomic status (SES). It also notes that HIV-infected people with low SES are less likely to receive treatment early on, and that, once treatment begins, the demands and costs of their medical care often hurt their SES even further.

The Impact of a Change in Economic Status

Efforts to control HIV/AIDS in Vietnam have been affected by the change in 2009 of Vietnam’s economic status from a low-income country to a lower-middle-income country. Foreign donors have since demanded that Vietnam cover an increasingly high share of the costs to run its HIV/AIDS programs, which Vietnam has agreed to. Today, the nation covers approximately 40% of the total costs of HIV/AIDS treatment.

Going forward, it is imperative that Vietnam and foreign donors work closely together to help ensure a smooth transition for critical HIV/AIDS programs as Vietnam takes on more autonomy.

– Jeramiah Jordan
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare successes in BurundiIn Burundi, over 65% of people live in poverty. The country has the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, the presence of disease is widespread and only 32% of children make it through the equivalent of middle school. Despite these statistics, recent healthcare successes in Burundi are creating many improvements for the country.

5 Healthcare Successes in Burundi

  1. USAID providing health services. Burundi’s health systems aren’t adequate for the 11.5 million people living there. Fortunately, outside organizations are supporting the country. USAID has backed efforts in Burundi that assist with child and maternal services, HIV/AIDS, malaria and malnutrition. By providing support for the Government of Burundi’s plan for HIV/AIDS prevention, USAID has also assisted in expanding control for and education about HIV. Besides HIV, there is currently a malaria epidemic in Burundi. Since 2019, there have been six million cases, but USAID has introduced treatment, prevention and testing options to the country, helping to combat malaria and trace the spread of infections. About 56% of children in Burundi live without access to the necessary amount of food, but USAID hopes to curb these numbers. The organization offers supplements and nutrition lessons to pregnant mothers and young children to assist with malnutrition. The services that USAID provides help the Burundi healthcare systems in multiple aspects. They have allowed for improved service delivery, better treatment for childhood diseases and viruses and more accessible medicine and assistance during pregnancy.
  2. A $5 million grant in response to COVID-19 from the International Development Association. On April 14, 2020, this grant was approved by The World Bank and gave Burundi the chance to build up its health services as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Burundi was originally not in a position economically to handle this pandemic. The grant has given the country more access to testing, equipment, facilities and health professionals. Along with this, it has helped to reduce the spread of the virus through strategies that improve communication and tracking within the country.
  3. Improved financial access to healthcare in Burundi. In 2002, Burundi implemented a policy to perform cost recovery and provide financial relief to citizens that can not afford necessary healthcare. This exemption allows more citizens to get proper treatment and not be concerned about being forced further into poverty because of medical bills.
  4. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations was launched at The World Economic Forum in January 2000. This alliance includes the World Health Organization, The Gates Foundation, UNICEF and many similar organizations. It aims to provide more access to new vaccines to children in countries like Burundi. Between 2005 and 2008, the Alliance donated $800 million to 72 underdeveloped countries to help increase vaccinations, fund health systems and provide healthcare services. This assistance created many new healthcare successes in Burundi. For example, Burundi has trained more people in midwifery, meaning there has been an increase in safe, assisted births. The country has received an average of $3.26 million annually from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. Additionally, healthcare workers have received more training and there has been increased coverage of immunizations.
  5. Reduced HIV/AIDS and new health ministries. From 2000 to 2013, HIV infections decreased by 46%. Civil conflict in Burundi between 1993 and 2003 caused the rapid spread of HIV in the country and a fractured health system. The government initially divided the health and HIV/AIDS ministries, causing political turmoil. But then non-governmental organizations stepped in, started HIV-specific clinics and offered incentives to health personnel working with HIV.

What Does This Mean for Poverty in Burundi?

These healthcare successes in Burundi are creating economic, social and physical improvement for the country. Malnutrition, the rate of disease and poverty are all decreasing. These operations expand beyond just healthcare, though. They reach every aspect of living in Burundi. They create opportunities for more children to thrive in school and more people to go to work. Ultimately, these opportunities lead to economic growth and a more sustainable country.

– Delaney Gilmore
Photo: Flickr

Artists Striving to End Poverty
Broadway musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell created Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), a charity organization. She and a group of Juilliard students created an organization that will engage underserved children in performing and visual arts in order to break the cycle of poverty. ASTEP connects artists with youth who lack the opportunities to receive a fine arts education. Artists Striving to End Poverty serves youth affected by immigration status, gun violence, HIV/AIDS and systemic poverty.

South Africa Program

Recently, ASTEP partnered with artsINSIDEOUT, an organization that consists of artists who travel to areas that the AIDS epidemic has hit hard. Through this work, they have been able to reach mothers and children that the AIDS epidemic has affected.

Artists Striving to End Poverty and artsINSIDEOUT support Nkosi’s Haven. Nkosi’s Haven is an organization located in Johannesburg that supports women and children living with HIV/AIDS. Nkosi’s Haven received its name from Nkosi Johnson, an AIDS activist who became separated from her mother due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She then lived in poverty due to a lack of financial support. Johnson made it her life’s mission to never let another family experience what she experienced. ASTEP Teaching Artists inspire children and mothers to unleash their creative sides. This two-week camp helped families affected by the AIDS pandemic to communicate their feelings with each other, building a strong and safe community of people with shared experiences.

India Program

Artists Striving to End Poverty has two major programs in India. The first program is the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, which hosts a two-week arts camp for the students who live at the school. Shanti Bhavan believes that lower caste children in India can rise out of poverty if they receive a proper education early on in life. Shanti Bhavan is working to build a foundation based on the interests of the students that go there and ASTEP has helped Shanti Bhavan implement fine arts education. ASTEP believes that the power of the arts can help enhance education and personal development.

ASTEP has also partnered with Teach for India. Teach for India is an organization that employs the brightest of India’s students to teach in the low-income areas of the country. ASTEP Teaching Artists partnered with Teach for India to create Maya the Musical as a way for low-income children in India to gain the opportunity to participate in musical activities. The Maya Musical helps children discover their true values and potential and the storyline helps them find courage and compassion. ASTEP hopes that the Maya Musical will be able to reach Teach for India’s 32,000 children as well as many more outside the program.

Going Forward

Although Artists Striving to End Poverty is still a very young organization, its commitment is enduring. Based in New York, the organization hopes to expand its platform in order to reach children both in the United States and around the world. ASTEP is looking for teachers to contribute to its cause, with the determination to use the fine arts to help break the cycle of childhood poverty.

– Saanvi Mevada
Photo: Flickr

women in sub-Saharan AfricaEducation has long been an uphill battle for women in sub-Saharan Africa who disproportionately lack the opportunity to go to school. The U.N.’s Education Plus Initiative aims to empower adolescent girls and young women, particularly in regard to HIV/AIDS prevention, through secondary education. A recent UNAIDS study suggests a correlation between HIV education and completing school, which also leads to a better socioeconomic future.

Education and Disease Among Young Women

Sub-Saharan Africa has become a hot spot of population growth. With more than 60% of the region’s population aged 25 and younger, a new generation of African citizens waits to meet the world on a global scale. But, educational attainment has long presented a hurdle for many sub-Saharan countries.

Relatively few African children receive higher education, with young women being the least likely. According to a recent study from the United Nations, more than 80% of the world’s women (aged 15-24) with HIV/AIDS are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Such health issues create a barrier to pursuing further education. A 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report shows a strong correlation between disease and missed educational opportunities, reporting that more than 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school, with 56% being girls.

The Millennium Declaration, a set of goals adopted by world leaders to reignite education and fight disease, says that incorporating education into young women’s lives in sub-Saharan Africa promotes poverty reduction, improves mental health and decreases rates of HIV/AIDS.

AIDS and HIV in Africa

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has ravaged entire countries in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 50 girls die from AIDS-related women’s illnesses every day worldwide and more than 90% of adolescent HIV/AIDS deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2019 study from UNAIDS, young women in Africa generally lack sufficient sex education. Thus, young women in sub-Saharan Africa face disproportionate exposure to many diseases. This includes two of the most threatening in terms of both education and life expectancy: HIV and AIDS.

HIV/AIDS has become prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa because of arranged child marriages and early pregnancies. A recent study from UNESCO found that nearly 52% of Sudanese girls older than 18 were already married, numbers that are mirrored throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Empowerment at the legal level decreases women’s chances of forced marriages and pregnancies, thus reducing rates of HIV and AIDS.

Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, stated, “When girls can’t uphold their human rights — especially their sexual and reproductive health and rights — efforts to get to zero exclusion, zero discrimination, zero violence and zero stigma are undermined.”

More than 79% of new HIV infections occur among girls aged 10-19, according to a 2019 UNAIDS research study. Young women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa need educational and health support. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower them.

The Education Plus Initiative

UNICEF, in collaboration with UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA and U.N. Women, has created a new initiative in sub-Saharan Africa called Education Plus. Education Plus focuses on empowering young women and girls and achieving gender equality through secondary education. According to UNAIDS, sexual education has helped empower tens of millions of young women throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Education Plus aims to revolutionize policies related to women’s sexual education in order to improve their quality of life. Education Plus will begin in 2021 and run through 2025. It plans to create policies that add sexual education to young women’s school lessons, launch tech-based publicity programs to promote women’s rights and expand upon HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and recovery, among other initiatives.

A UNICEF study revealed just how important education is to empower young women in sub-Saharan Africa. When young girls finish secondary school, they are six times less likely to marry young. The study also found that if a child’s mother can read, the child has a 50% better chance of survival.

Moving Forward

Education Plus is set to run for five years to help women and girls achieve social, educational and economic success. UNICEF, UNAIDS and several other organizations have come together to make supporting young women in Africa a priority.

Moving forward, empowering young women in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s highest poverty areas, requires an array of solutions. Organizations like UNAIDS hope the area can one day flourish as an oasis for young women and girls, who will, in turn, have the educational and social resources to create a more stable Africa.

Mario Perales
Photo: Flickr

Africa Outreach ProjectOn June 26, 2021, actress Charlize Theron held a gathering at Universal Studios during the first showing of the “F9” movie. The event was to promote the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. The occasion featured an outdoor party where celebrities auctioned donations for the foundation. There was also a question and answer session with the actors and producers of the new “Fast and Furious” movie, including Charlize Theron, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, and the film director, Justin Lin. The gala was just one of the ways Theron utilizes her celebrity platform to aid South Africans suffering from HIV.

The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project

Theron created the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project in 2007. The project prevents the spread of HIV by aiding in the healthcare and education of young people. The project’s primary goal is to allow young Africans to have promising futures free from disease and give them an equal chance at life. To further this commitment, the initiative assists other African firms in helping address societal needs by providing university grants to young Africans.

Many solutions exist in the fight against the spread of HIV in South Africa, including education. South African women are less probable to get HIV if they complete university. In this way, providing young people with access to quality education intertwines with the fight against HIV. Accordingly, Theron’s gala directed the donations to helping South Africans receive the necessary education to remain healthy and live productive and fulfilling lives.

The Need for Aid

According to the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, 67% of people infected with HIV reside in South Africa. The organization projects that 26 million people in the area currently live with HIV. In addition, almost 4,600 South Africans are diagnosed with HIV per week. Moreover, South Africa “represents less than 1% of the world’s population” but constitutes 20% of those infected with HIV worldwide.

The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project also states that education in South Africa is plagued with challenges such as school abandonment and limited accessibility to school supplies. As a result, citizens have a tough time finishing school. In fact, nearly 50% of South Africans who begin college leave prior to finishing their studies.

Furthermore, many young students experience the burdens of absent teachers, substance abuse, sexual abuse and early pregnancy on top of being impoverished. Consequently, less than half of students who start the first grade end up graduating from 12th grade. In addition, a lower percentage of these young students are eligible for college. As such, the youth cannot contribute to the region’s economic development, which keeps the region impoverished.

Theron’s 2020 Fundraiser

In August 2020, Theron held a fundraising party similar to this year’s June 2021 gala. The 2020 fundraiser featured a drive-in screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Once again, the proceeds went toward the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. Theron held the event in the parking lot of the Grove Mall in Los Angeles. However, the party only allowed 90 vehicles due to COVID-19 guidelines and cost $1,000 for two individuals. Attendants remained in their cars and listened in to “the night’s audio” by tuning into 89.1 FM.

Theron has used her celebrity platform to raise awareness about successful approaches to stop the spread of HIV and safeguard those already infected with it. The star’s strategy to encourage donations is very creative and garners much-needed support in the fight against HIV. Through more galas or other creative fundraising avenues, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project will be able to sustain the valuable aid it provides to young Africans by improving access to education and decreasing the risk of HIV.

Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in EswatiniDue to its investments and reliable infrastructure, Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is one of the most stable African countries. Similarly, Eswatini runs an internationally recognized, successful educational and training institution known as the BirchCooper Graduate Institute. Despite the ability to provide a high quality of life to citizens, Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. However, the country is taking positive steps to combat HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, which one can clearly see in its most recent HIV/AIDS achievements.

The Problem

There are many factors that contribute to high rates of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, such as multiple sexual partners, low condom usage, sexual violence and commercial sex. Due to these factors, HIV/AIDS has reached a staggering 27% rate among adults. While this rate is already high, women and girls are at an even higher risk of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini due to income inequality.

In Eswatini, social barriers cause many women to engage in transactional sex to earn money. This practice increases the risk of HIV and further fuels the HIV epidemic. In fact, while young women in Gambia, South Africa, the Congo and Gabon are three times more likely to have HIV than young men, young women in Eswatini are five times more likely to have HIV than young men.

5 Facts About HIV/AIDS in Eswatini

  1. Due to how quickly the epidemic is spreading, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Eswatini.
  2. Because of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, more than 95% of adults and 84% of children are on antiretroviral treatment.
  3. Due to the impact of drought and other factors, economic growth has stagnated and the poverty rate remains high at almost 60% in 2017. Impoverished countries usually lack adequate resources for an effective HIV/AIDS response.
  4. Gender discrimination is prevalent in Eswatini, with females experiencing significantly more HIV/AIDs stigmatization than males. Women also receive less economic, educational and emotional support.
  5. The high HIV/AIDS rate in Eswatini significantly impacts children as roughly 45,000 children from 0-17 have become orphans due to AIDS-related parent mortality.

Taking Strategic Action

Eswatini has made significant efforts to address the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Eswatini has implemented the National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework (NSF) 2018-2023 with multiple objectives:

  • Decrease HIV rates among people aged 15-49 by 85%.
  • In the age bracket of 15-24, reduce HIV prevalence by 85%.
  • Decrease “new HIV infections among infants aged 0-1 year to less than 0.05%.”
  • Reduce AIDs-related deaths by half.

Aside from prevention and treatment aspects, the strategy also includes social protection and assistance, covering “orphaned and vulnerable children,” gender-based violence issues and HIV stigma.

The Good News

Eswatini’s efforts to combat its HIV/AIDS epidemic have been extremely successful in helping alleviate its HIV burden. In December 2020, Eswatini became “the first country in Africa to achieve the United Nations HIV targets.”

The 95-95-95 goal directs that, by 2030, 95% of people would be aware of their HIV status, 95% of affected people would be on treatment and 95% of those on treatment would be virally suppressed. In fact, Eswatini reached this goal 10 years before the expected year of 2030. This success is a clear indication that Eswatini has made significant strides in controlling HIV/AIDS.

As the burdens of HIV have damaged the fabric of Eswatini society with serious physical, mental, social and economic implications for its citizens, the country is moving toward a better and brighter future. Eswatini’s success serves as an inspiration for other countries battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr