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HIV in South Africa
In 2007, the U.N. reported that South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, and that three-quarters of AIDS-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. There are numerous components that contribute to high levels of AIDS in a community. Among them are poverty, sexual violence, high rates of other sexually transmitted diseases and lack of access to proper healthcare.

The prevalence of HIV in South Africa is markedly high at 18.9 percent, although most people with the disease in the country are unaware that they have it. Due to the social stigma surrounding sexually transmitted diseases, many people do not want to get tested.

Groups Most Affected by HIV in South Africa

Children, unfortunately, comprise a large percentage of those affected by the disease in South Africa. It was estimated in 2016 that 320,000 children under the age of 14 are infected and only about half of them are receiving treatment. Orphans and children living in poverty are even more likely to become infected.

The lack of access to healthcare and the unhygienic living situations associated with poverty contribute to the higher rates of HIV in those communities. Additionally, parents are less likely to be educated about HIV prevention, which increases the likelihood of them spreading it to their children and other people. Without access to healthcare or knowledge about the disease, people are much less likely to get tested and take precautions to avoid infecting others.

Among young women, the prevalence of HIV in South Africa is especially high. In 2016, young women between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for 37 percent of new infections. The lower status of women, the prevalence of sexual violence against women and higher rates of poverty among women are all believed to be factors contributing to these higher rates compared to their male peers.

Nationwide Efforts Increase Awareness and Decrease Infection Rates

Thankfully, South Africa has the largest and most extensive HIV/AIDS treatment programs in the world. The program provides antiretroviral treatment for those already infected, and prophylaxis for pregnant women to prevent them from passing HIV to their unborn child.

The organization She Conquers is part of the effort to reduce infections. This is a national prevention campaign that aims to raise awareness about the disease to young women in South Africa and to provide treatment in more areas.

She Conquers also focuses on young women living in poverty by providing educational opportunities and support to stand up against gender-based violence. Thanks to this campaign, young women will have access to the right resources to protect themselves from HIV.

In addition, nationwide testing initiatives were launched that have resulted in 10 million people getting tested for HIV in South Africa every year. South Africa is hoping to reduce new infections from 270,000 to 100,000 by the year 2022.

Thanks to the nationwide efforts to mitigate the spread of HIV, people in South Africa are getting more access to resources to prevent the disease than ever. Young women and children living in poverty have opportunities to educate themselves and avoid contracting HIV. There is a lot of hope for those infected and those in danger of becoming infected with HIV in South Africa.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

AIDS Epidemic in South SudanOver the last decade, the AIDS epidemic has been softened across the continent of Africa. The majority of countries have seen a vast reduction in the disease as effective and affordable treatments have become more widespread. However, several countries, including South Sudan, have seen an increase in cases threatening the health and survival of current and future generations. So, what is being done to confront the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan?

The Basics

  1. HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that damages the human immune system over time.
  2. If left untreated, the HIV virus will develop into a condition referred to as AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
  3. The development of AIDS leaves a person susceptible to many diseases as the body’s immune system can no longer defend itself against harmful germs or even cancer cells.
  4. There are currently more than 36.5 million people globally living with HIV/AIDS and more than 350 thousand in South Sudan alone.

A History of the AIDS Epidemic in South Sudan

South Sudan, a country roughly the size of the U.S. state of Texas, has a population just shy of 13 million. In the country, approximately 350,000 people are currently infected with the HIV virus. From 2012 to 2015, progress was made in the reduction of the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan. In 2012, 3 percent of the population of South Sudan was infected by the HIV virus. This number dropped to 2.47 percent in 2015.

Due to poor access to healthcare, lack of proper sanitation and lack of health education, the number of HIV cases in South Sudan have increased. The percent of people infected by the virus in 2016 rose to 2.7 percent and has remained steady through this year. 

Impacts

While various forms of treatment and prevention have been suggested, such as regular condom use and medication, there has been surprisingly little progress made in alleviating the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan. Despite a high rate of condom use, many people do not use them regularly, which does little in terms of disease prevention.

Some researchers suggest the most effective tool in preventing new cases is a societal change in sexual patterns. For example, polygamous relationships are common in South Sudan, including casual sexual encounters for all genders in a marriage. This has been the largest catalyst for spreading HIV to date. Researchers suggest reducing sexual encounters to committed relationships to effectively reduce the number of new infections.

Fortunately, the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan is no longer an accurate representation of the global AIDS health crisis. The government of South Sudan is pushing for increased treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS among its citizens. Currently, only 25,000 people in the country are being treated for the HIV virus.

However, until sexual patterns change and treatment is readily available, the people of South Sudan will continue to fight the disease. The U.N. is working on the testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS for every person in South Sudan. This is a lofty but achievable goal, projected to be reached over the next five years.

– Alexandra Ferrigno 

Photo: Flickr

Maternal and Child Health in Mali
Mali is a country located in western sub-Saharan Africa with the third-highest fertility rate in the world at an average of six children per woman. Infant mortality stands at 100 deaths for every 1,000 live births, giving Mali the second highest infant mortality rate in the world.

Maternal and child health in Mali remains among the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa for many reasons. Limited access and adoption of family planning, early childbearing (the mean age of first birth is 18.8 years), and short birth intervals are among the major reasons. Other important factors are female genital cutting, infrequent use of skilled birth attendants and lack of emergency obstetrical and neonatal care, which is often uncomfortable for women when used.

Despite these statistics, many important changes are taking place to improve maternal and child health in Mali. Lowering fertility is essential for poverty reduction, improving food security and developing human capital and the economy. Having fewer children creates less housework and healthier children, and mothers are able to contribute and benefit economically.

Women are often revered in Malian culture; however, legal status, health and economic opportunities favor males. Only two out of 10 women make decisions regarding their own health. Domestic violence is largely considered acceptable by society. Mamadou Ben Diabete is a Malian griot who is trying to change some of these problems.

Griots are Malian storytellers, poets and musicians, carrying on a tradition dating back to the 13th century. They hold large influence in many parts of Malian society. Diabete felt that influencing improvements to women’s health was part of his calling. He attended training workshops on RAPIDWoman, an interactive software modeling system that teaches users how investing in reproductive health, girls’ education and maternal health programs can increase quality of life. Diabete and a colleague then presented the model to nearly 70 people from the government of Mali, NGOs, women’s associations and local media and held followup discussions. These organizations remain dedicated to prioritizing the health and happiness of women throughout Mali.

USAID’s Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) includes Mali in one of their 25 countries of focus in the improvement of maternal and child health. MCSP recognizes critical health system constraints such as geographical access, availability of human resources and financial affordability. The organization then finds interventions that are most important, such as handwashing with soap and having a skilled attendant at delivery, an intervention that saw the greatest gains.

Other specific measures that can be taken to improve maternal and child health in Mali are outlined by UNICEF and include preventive malaria treatment for pregnant women, strengthening medical evacuation programs, promoting prenatal HIV testing and providing pediatric treatment. With the help of nonprofits and international aid programs, we can improve maternal and child health in Mali.

Phoebe Cohen

Photo: Flickr