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

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

HIV/AIDS in Thailand

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

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

Progress in Thailand

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

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

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

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

Future Goals

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

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

– Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Flickr

Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
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

Health Concerns During COVID-19COVID-19 has understandably been the main focus around the world. In developed countries, many are new to health epidemics and the disruptions caused by them. But, in some parts of the world, widespread disease is not new at all and COVID-19 is not the only health concern. There are several other global health concerns during COVID-19. Some seem obvious, like malaria or HIV/AIDS. But, some have made less news, like a toxic goldmine in Ethiopia. These health crises also require assistance and aid from the international community.

HIV/AIDS in South Africa

In 2019, it was estimated that more than seven million people in South Africa were living with HIV. Roughly 200,000 of those people were newly diagnosed in 2019, and in that same year, 72,000 people died. Though 70% of people receive antiretroviral therapy (ART), the disease remains incurable. Its prevalence makes it one of the priority health concerns during COVID-19.

Though South Africa has the largest population of people living with HIV in the world, it has made a lot of progress. Data indicates that in 2018, 90% of infected individuals were aware of their status and 87% of people receiving treatment were virally suppressed, meaning they do not transfer the virus. Despite this success, rates continue to increase and it disproportionately affects women and young girls.

In 2016, South Africa made treatment for HIV free to all, where it used to be available only to those with advanced infections. This comes after South Africa made pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available to all sex workers to prevent HIV contraction in the first place. Though it did take years for South Africa to acknowledge this epidemic, the country is making progress. However, more focus and attention needs to go toward addressing HIV/AIDs in South Africa as it is a significant health crisis.

Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa

COVID-19 severely affected sub-Saharan Africa’s access to insecticide-treated nets (ITN) and malaria treatments. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged nations to resume the distribution of these things, in fear that mortality rates in 2020 would reach 769,000, which is double the rates of 2018.

Preventative treatments, which deliver antimalarial medication to asymptomatic people, aimed at school-aged children, has shown to significantly reduce the risk of contracting malaria. Health officials in sub-Saharan Africa have been urged to take heed of this, but the poverty affecting the region limits progress.

A whole 90% of global malaria deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa, and of that figure, 78% of victims are children. Malaria is a treatable condition, but those most susceptible to it usually live in a state of poverty, unable to afford treatment. Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most pressing global health concerns besides COVID-19.

Toxic Gold Mine in Ethiopia

Gold mining is an important industry in Ethiopia. The export of gold and similar minerals makes up 7-10% of Ethiopia’s export earnings. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the mines, both skilled and unskilled.

But, in Ethiopia’s most populous region, Oromia, a gold mine has released harmful contaminants that have severely affected people. Serious deficiencies in mine management have left the soil and water contaminated with dangerous levels of cyanide, arsenic and mercury. This contamination resulted in high rates of miscarriage, stillbirths and infant mortality, birth defects, the destruction of livestock and crops and locals are afflicted with debilitating illnesses. Residents say there was no warning about potential toxins,

The mine was considered so toxic that the situation was deemed a violation of human rights. After pushback from the citizens, it was temporarily shut down, but there was no accountability or treatment for those affected. There remains doubt whether the air and water are now safe and residents anticipate that the mine will be reopened. In August 2020, mineworkers were asked to attend a meeting, cementing this assumption. In collaboration, human rights organizations submitted a document to the Human Rights Committee entailing Ethiopia’s violations of rights in regard to the contaminated mine. It documents Ethiopia’s failures and necessary reparations that should be made to people.

To safeguard the well-being of the Ethiopian people and ensure that aid is provided to the affected people, it is essential for the international community to get involved.

COVID-19 and Other Global Health Concerns

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the health of nations globally, no matter the resources a country has. But, it has also overshadowed some pressing issues. There are other major health concerns during COVID-19 that need international attention and aid as well.

– Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in JamaicaA whole 2.8 million people live in poverty in Jamaica. The strain of poverty is heavy on all people, however, for children, it is more severe. Jamaica is yet to tackle the many factors impacting child poverty.

Facts About Child Poverty in Jamaica

  1. At least 25% of Jamaican children live under the poverty line. With the struggling economic state in Jamaica, it is difficult for the government to prioritize increasing investment in children. Instead, a large amount of the country’s national budget is dedicated to debt repayment. Because poverty is most widespread in rural Jamaica, hidden from the eyes of tourists, issues impacting children are rarely addressed.
  1. Jamaica does not have equal access to education. Minors living in rural areas may not have the option to attend school at all. While primary school is free, secondary and higher education is not, meaning that schooling beyond the primary level is often too expensive for underprivileged families. Beyond accessibility, Jamaican schools often lack resources for proper learning which means children are not able to thrive in an educational setting.
  1. Jamaica has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS affliction. This contributes to an overall high child mortality rate. In numbers, 10% of Jamaicans who have HIV/AIDS are under the age of 18, often as a result of mother-to-child transmission. In addition, AIDS deaths in adults result in many children becoming orphaned.
  1. High unemployment rates lead to unstable socio-economic conditions. Without a way to earn a stable income, many in Jamaica turn to gang activity and crime to survive. Exposure to extreme violence is common for Jamaican children, and because of high poverty levels, many young boys often join gangs themselves. In addition, many unemployed residents are forced to live without access to running water and proper sanitation which means children and families live in unacceptable conditions.
  1. Child labor is widespread and often essential for a family’s survival. With high poverty rates across Jamaica’s rural communities, some families must send their children to work, purely out of desperation. In cities, children are often seen selling merchandise, washing car windshields and begging for money. For many, living the life of a child is an unaffordable luxury.

The Jamaican Childcare and Protection Act

Jamaica still has some work to do in terms of protecting its children from the harsh realities of poverty. However, the country has progressed in this regard, by implementing crucial legislation for the protection of children. The Jamaican Childcare and Protection Act was passed in 2004 and promotes the safety and best interests of children in the country. The Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and the Children’s Register was established under this Act. The OCA was established with the purpose of protecting and enforcing the rights of children and the Children’s Register consists of the information reported regarding suspected ill-treatment of a child. Child labor is also specifically addressed in the Act.

While child poverty in Jamaica is still a significant concern, the country has made progress and will continue to do so in the future as key issues affecting the country’s most vulnerable populations are addressed.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in MozambiqueThe provision of foreign aid from the United States serves as a multifaceted solution and preventative measure to many issues that ultimately impact the United States. In assisting with the development of under-resourced countries and those afflicted by natural disasters and conflict, the country’s interest in strengthening U.S. eminence in the global political ecosystem is served, as is the initiative to foster and stabilize democracies that are essential in maintaining global peace. Mozambique is one such country that receives aid from the United States. Nearly half of the population lives in poverty and while having managed to combat that statistic with an annual decrease of 1%, the country continues to see rising levels of inequality. USAID’s 2019 assistance investment in Mozambique totaled $288 million. Foreign aid in Mozambique is being used in several key developmental areas.

Developing Education

A significant portion of U.S. foreign aid has been invested in providing basic education. This foreign aid in Mozambique has been applied in conjunction with the country’s national budgetary allocation of 15% for basic education. This initiative has led to improved access to education with the abolishment of enrollment fees, an investment in free textbooks, direct funding to schools and the construction of classrooms. With access to education improving, Mozambique now moves to focus on developing the quality of education it provides and extending the initiative of improving access to those who are in the early learning stage. Only 5% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 have access to such services. Moving forward, educational initiatives aim to focus on the improvement of teacher training, the retention of students (as only 8% continue onto secondary level) and optimizing the management and monitoring of education nationally.

Addressing Humanitarian Needs

A large part of foreign aid in Mozambique has been committed to battling humanitarian crises. Cabo Delgado is the northernmost province of the country and is experiencing an insurgency that is decimating its infrastructure and food security. As a result, there is an ongoing displacement of the population. In November 2020 alone, more than 14,300 displaced people arrived in the provincial capital Pemba. The World Food Programme estimates the cost of feeding internally displaced people in northern Mozambique to be at approximately $4.7 million per month, aside from the housing costs and the complexity of managing the crisis amid a global pandemic. This allocation of the country’s foreign aid will be vital in maintaining the wellbeing of people during the conflict and restoring the country’s infrastructure once the insurgency has subdued.

Improving the Health Sector

The bulk of foreign aid in Mozambique goes toward the many challenges the country faces with regard to health issues such as funding family planning, battling tuberculosis, maternal and child health as well as water and sanitation. More than $120 million goes toward this initiative but the most pressing of the issues is mitigating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2014, Mozambique ranked eighth globally for HIV cases. With the support, antiretroviral therapy and testing has expanded, which is evidenced by more than a 40% drop in new cases since 2004. Additionally, with a sharp increase in the treatment of pregnant women who carry the virus, one study recorded a 73% drop in cases among newborns between 2011 and 2014. The executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, has claimed that the epidemic could be completely eradicated by 2030 if such a rate of progress continues.

The developmental progress in Mozambique is reflective of the substantial impact that foreign aid has on developing countries. As U.S. foreign aid to developing countries continues, the hope is for other well-positioned countries to follow suit.

– Christian Montemayor
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/AIDS in JamaicaAs of 2018, 32,000 people were living with a positive HIV diagnosis in Jamaica, with 44% of this population receiving treatment. This has been attributed to the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS, which can make those who live with it unwilling to pursue help. In response, Jamaican activists have campaigned and advocated for the destigmatization of HIV/AIDS because they believe it is the first step to completely eradicating the disease in Jamaica.

USAID’s Health Policy Project

International initiatives, such as the Health Policy Project, have been an important resource for activists because it focuses on training and educating. This project is a part of USAID’s mission to counter HIV/AIDS around the world and USAID is its chief source of funding. Within the Health Policy Project, HIV positive individuals have been invited to larger conferences where they are able to learn more about how to counter stigmatization and how to mobilize others. Because these individuals are Jamaican and their stories are personal, their message tends to be more positively received by audiences. This has allowed for a greater discussion of HIV/AIDS because it gives faces to those who are being discriminated against.

Governmental Initiatives for Anti-Discrimination

On a legislative level, the Jamaican Government has pushed multiple initiatives and studies to better the living conditions and access to care for those living with HIV. For example, healthcare discrimination is countered through the Client Complaint Mechanism and the Jamaica Anti-Discrimination System by educating the population, monitoring minority communities and training healthcare workers. In addition to that, these organizations collect reports of discrimination from around the country and help to investigate and correct them. These bodies are also working to provide free HIV treatment across the country and hope to accomplish this in the coming years.

Jamaica AIDS Support

Jamaica AIDS Support is the largest non-governmental organization working to counter and destigmatize HIV/AIDS in the country. Besides the promotion of education and treatment, the organization also provides access to mental health treatment for those who are HIV positive. This has allowed for a larger discourse about mental health and how it relates to this disease as well as a greater social acknowledgment of how stigmatization hurts others. In 2016, Jamaica AIDS Support began the Greater Treasure Beach Area pilot project, which aims to educate young people on HIV/AIDS so that in the coming generations there will be more tolerance and acceptance of those living with HIV.

Eve for Life

Local organizations, such as Eve for Life, have also been instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS discrimination by approaching the issue through empowerment. Eve for Life specifically works to empower women living with HIV through multiple education initiatives as well as smaller groups meant to support these women. One such group, Mentor Moms, works to help young mothers living with HIV to secure treatment and it provides smaller meeting groups where these similar women can find community. So far, it seems these initiatives have been overwhelmingly successful as more female activists have become involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which has led to greater social consciousness about the disease.

Conquering Stigma and Countering HIV/AIDS

Destigmatization initiatives in Jamaica are the key to countering HIV/AIDS and the country is off to a promising start. By utilizing personal narrative and education, activists hope to secure a world that is more welcoming for their children than it was for them. In the words of UNAIDS country director, Manoela Manova, “The more we do to ensure that people feel safe and respected, the closer the country will come to ending AIDS.”

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

PEPFAROne of the most effective programs in the fight against AIDS is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The program was first authorized by Congress in May 2003. It initially started as a way to help the people of Africa, where the AIDS epidemic was most concentrated. Now, PEPFAR has international and domestic programs that fight AIDS in over 50 countries.

Poverty and HIV

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is widely recognized to correlate with impoverished rural and urban areas. Poverty is not a necessary condition for contracting HIV. However, it can be related to risky sexual behaviors, such as participation in sex at a young age and prostitution. Poverty can also lead to inadequate sexual education or resources that would assist in preventing AIDS.

The underlying factors in poor areas that increase the risk of AIDS —  violence, social mobility, economic strain and access to education — need to be addressed. Tackling risk factors as a method of prevention has already proven to be largely successful in fighting AIDS internationally. Further, that approach has helped families simultaneously fight sources of intergenerational poverty.

PEPFAR

When President George W. Bush announced PEPFAR at the State of the Union, he said of the program: “seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many… And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa. This comprehensive plan will prevent seven million new AIDS infections, treat at least two million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS.”

Today, PEPFAR has far exceeded its once lofty goals. The program has provided over 18 million people with HIV treatments and helpful services, like cervical screenings and education programs. To celebrate its incredible success, PEPFAR launched a new website in July 2020. It provides a timeline of scientific discoveries, legislation and social outreaches pivotal in the worldwide fight against AIDS.

Starting in 1981, the timeline explores the first known cases of AIDS in the U.S. and Africa. It moves on to facts about school education about AIDS and global programs like the World Health Organization’s Global Program on Aids (1987). A few tabs later, it relates the explosion of Congressional funding and legislation for PEPFAR and allied programs circa 2006 all the way to present day, 2020.

Additionally noted are milestones, such as PEPFAR’s 10th anniversary marking one million HIV-free babies born due to PEPFAR programs. This corresponds to the increased financial investment by the U.S., which proves the initiative’s substantial success.

Continued Efforts

PEPFAR is not satisfied with resting on its existing laurels, however. The same month PEPFAR released its celebratory website, PEPFAR also announced its latest report and upcoming budget. The new budget doubles funding for its HIV program that helps adolescent girls and young women to $400 million.

The program has so far helped over 1.5 million women and girls in only six months in 2019 and decreased HIV cases in that demographic by 25% since 2014. The new budget additionally increases PEPFAR’s cervical screening program, Go Further, by 70%. Together these effective programs are only a small piece of PEPFAR’s astonishing $85 billion total investment over the past 17 years of its existence.

Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

sexuality EducationThe age group of 15 to 24 accounts for 16% of the global population but represents 34% of people in the age group of 15 to 49 that acquire HIV each year. Young people remain disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic and comprehensive sexuality education is a strategy for addressing this issue.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)

In the 2016-2021 Strategy of UNAIDS, one of the eight sub-strategies includes “quality comprehensive sexuality education accessed by all adolescents and young people.” Many other organizations believe comprehensive sexual education is essential for young people to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is a curriculum-based program taught in school or out of school and over several years. The purpose of CSE is to “provide age-appropriate information about human rights, human sexuality, gender equality, puberty, relationships and sexuality and reproductive health.”

Digital Sexual Education

In places where there are ineffective or insufficient schools, digital sexuality education may be a substitute. Over 70% of 15 to 24-year-olds are online so sexuality education and information are increasingly being delivered through a digital format. Although millions have access to online sexuality education, research is limited regarding its impact. Although digital education is effective in reaching large groups of young people, some fear that cyberbullying and unsafe online research could hinder the success of online tools.

CSE Initiatives

The HIV epidemic impacts many regions, but sub-Saharan Africa remains the most affected. With support from the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) joined together to provide sexual education in the region. In 20 Eastern and Southern African countries, adolescents can access comprehensive sexuality education.

In support of comprehensive sex education, UNESCO alongside five other organizations published the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education. The document outlines key topics for curriculums specific to different regions.

In 2002, The UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) on Education and School Health was created to improve HIV education. The IATT aims to increase leadership support and resource allocation for HIV and health education. IATT members believe that education is essential for successful HIV programs.

The Impact of CSE

CSE provides more than information. It aims to help young people establish positive values regarding their sexual health through discussions about relationships, gender roles and sexual abuse.

In a study focused on measuring the impact of curriculum-based sex and HIV education programs on adolescents or young adults between 9 and 24 years old, 65% of the programs had a significantly positive impact on behavior.

With more focus on education as a tool for prevention, it is hopeful that the global HIV epidemic will be positively impacted.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr