Impact of COVID-19 on poverty in SlovakiaWhile the COVID-19 pandemic severely exacerbated poverty in Slovakia, further investigation reveals that the damage was not as terrible as it could have been, due to generous monetary assistance and the valuable, effective work of several NGOs. This work has mitigated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Slovakia, specifically in the Roma community.

About the Slovak Economy

The Slovak economy was already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Slovakia’s post-communist era, in which it transitioned to a Western economy, it faced several challenges. Additionally, Slovakia’s adoption of the euro, which unfortunately coincided with the timing of the recession and the euro crisis, further weakened its economy and thus worsened the issue of poverty in the state.

However, funding and monetary assistance from the EU have proven beneficial in providing support to small businesses that the crisis affected. This funding also focused on preserving employment and supporting self-employed individuals. Overall, economic activity in Slovakia is beginning to rebound and recover from the pandemic. This is, in part, due to lockdowns that helped prevent the virus’ spread. Slovakia’s economy, in comparison to other European countries, contracted less severely.

Slovakia’s GDP and Inflation

However, this should not allow for the overlooking of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Slovakia, as well as Slovakia’s general economy. Slovakia’s GDP has grown since 2019, but not as quickly as in the quarters recorded before the pandemic. Economists expect inflation to be around 7% in 2022 due to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, changes in energy prices or wage expectations, and other COVID-related externalities that cause dramatic price increases.

Slovakia’s most important economic sectors are the industrial and automotive industries, meaning that relief aid primarily focused on supporting these two sectors. However, this also means that other sectors, such as the tourism and service industries, did not receive as much relief – and these sectors rely on the work of people in high-risk groups, such as youth workers and members of the Roma community. Slovakia’s poverty rate is approximately 11.4%. It has decreased in recent years, but not as much as it could have if it were not for the pandemic. This is partly because relief aid did not target the most vulnerable economic sectors in which high-risk groups, such as the Roma community, work.

Lockdown Measures and the Slovak Roma Community

While lockdown measures may have benefited Slovakia’s economy, they were controversial in that they targeted vulnerable Roma populations. These lockdown measures sparked accusations of discrimination; the government “sealed” off the minority Roma population in order to stop COVID-19 from spreading even more. Roma people are more susceptible to diseases like COVID-19 because they live in segregated settlements with poverty, overcrowding, limited infrastructure and poor hygiene. Because of this environment, they have a greater susceptibility to infectious diseases.

As the pandemic began to grow in severity, the Slovak government announced its plans to test Roma communities after one Roma man broke a self-quarantine rule. As a result, the government contained 6,000 Roma people in five separate settlements in eastern Slovakia, where they identified the first infections. The government justified this harsh, extreme lockdown by citing specific issues with actually enforcing quarantine in the first place.

Non-governmental organizations and local Roma organizations feared that this would place the Roma people at even greater risk of COVID-19 exposure, infection and spread because the extreme containment measures had jurisdiction over environments and settlements conducive to the spread of infectious disease. Additionally, some argued that these policies were discriminatory because of the great risk they would cause for Roma people. The three main tenets of COVID-19 mitigation advice are wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and washing hands regularly; unfortunately, these are hard to implement and maintain in communities that are crowded and lack access to running water, such as those in which Roma people live.

People in Need Slovakia

Several NGOs saw an opportunity to work with government agencies and prevent higher infection rates for the Roma population (at least when compared with the rest of the Slovak population). In 1999, a group of journalists documenting the war in Kosovo founded People in Need Slovakia, an NGO that is helping the Slovak Roma community survive the pandemic. It has focused on providing emergency aid by handing out masks, disinfectants, soap and jerry cans to supplement water access. It also fundraises and provides emergency food provisions for the poorest Roma families in these settlements. The second phase of its relief plan involves organizing summer schools to compensate for issues in education access – due to school closures and the lack of wifi and laptops necessary for distance learning.

Zdrave Regiony

A second NGO, Zdrave Regiony, has been training health mediators. These mediators are local community members who lack medical qualifications but work with medical professionals as a bridge between community members and medical staff. Specifically, throughout the pandemic, it has liaised with health professionals, assisted in recognizing and tagging COVID-19 symptoms and coordinated testing and vaccination sites in Roma communities where trust in governmental authorities and mandates is low.

Overall, the assistance of these two organizations has led to positive results, as incidences of COVID-19 within the Slovak Roma community are no greater than in the rest of Slovak society. This means that the organizations, in cooperation with local community members and government officials, were able to mitigate the effects of the living conditions that characterize Slovak Roma settlements. Perhaps, this necessary step will open the door to more work and assistance that ensures Roma communities receive better care in times of crisis.

Though there have been many impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Slovakia and, though the general Slovak economy has certainly suffered as a result of COVID-19, it is encouraging to see that organizations and communities are working together to counter the already-existing effects of poverty and spread of disease, especially for those who are at greater risk.

– Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Flickr

HIV-positive UkrainiansThe war in Ukraine disrupted its supply chain of HIV medication and necessary health services. More than 40 health facilities that provided services for HIV treatment and prevention are now closed. What is more, it may not be safe for HIV-positive Ukrainians to leave their shelters to pick up their medications, and even if it is, pharmacies are not guaranteed to have the drugs. People fleeing also do not have adequate amounts of medication. They may have a one-month or two weeks supply, but not enough to sustain them before they have access to more medication. The people in Russian-occupied territories along with those who are unable to relocate to a safe place are currently the most vulnerable.

HIV Medication Explained

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) involves taking a combination of HIV medications daily. Though ARTs are not a cure for HIV, they help prevent transmission and let HIV-positive people live longer healthier lives. ART reduces a person’s viral load, the amount of HIV in a blood sample, to an undetectable level. If a person’s viral load level is undetectable, meaning that a viral load test cannot detect it, then that person cannot transmit HIV to others.

Before the war, approximately 260,000 people were living with AIDS. Of this population, only 58% had access to daily antiretroviral medications. Now, with the war resulting in reduced access to ARTs, UNAIDS reported the possibility of the “resurgence of Ukraine’s AIDS pandemic.”

How PEPFAR Has Been Providing ARTs

HIV-positive Ukrainians are now depending on international support for treatment. The United States President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) invested $13 million in antiretroviral medications for Ukrainarinas in need. PEPFAR began in 2003 and is the largest commitment by any nation to address one disease. Its funding, which totals more than $100 billion, includes funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund). The Global Fund also provided emergency aid for ART medication in Ukraine.

The first wave of medication from PEPFAR delivered 18 million doses of ARTs to the Public Health Center of the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and 100% Life, the “largest organization of people living with HIV in Ukraine” to distribute. This portion of life-saving treatment will cover six months of treatment for HIV-positive Ukrainians, less than that of PEPFAR’s commitment to cover one year, or 51 million doses of ART medication in Ukraine. PEPFAR flew the antiretroviral medications to Poland. From there, trucks transported the medication to medical facilities in Ukraine.

UNAIDS’ Efforts

Civil society organizations are making great efforts to distribute drugs and medical supplies to vulnerable people in locations that are difficult to reach. UNAIDS put forth an initial $200,000 in emergency funds for medical supplies to be distributed in seven cities with large HIV populations: Chernihiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kryvy Rih, Kyiv, Odesa and Poltava. UNAIDS has requested an additional $2.24 million to fund civil service organizations in Ukraine that are providing HIV treatment and refugees in other countries that are experiencing HIV. Civil society organizations that receive support from UNAIDS are helping to get HIV-infected individuals ARTs in the Republic of Moldova and the European Union. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) helped push Viiv Healthcare, a pharmaceutical company, to provide HIV medication donations to the Czech Republic, Poland and other countries in the European Union that are hosting Ukrainian refugees.

The war in Ukraine has deepened the threat of HIV deaths for positive Ukrainians. Although foreign aid has played a pivotal role in obtaining and dispersing antiretroviral medications throughout the nation and to Ukrainians abroad, there is still a high demand for ARTs in difficult locations and to continue after the one-year investment from PEPFAR concludes. Ukraine’s Public Health Center created a website with more support for HIV-positive people. The website includes information about where individuals can continue ART therapy and provides information about how to find HIV help. It also provides contacts for Ukrainian refugees with HIV. The need to get medication to HIV-positive Ukrainians is urgent, and the threat of another AIDS pandemic is not over.

– Jordan Oh

Photo: Flickr

Health Care in LiberiaLiberia has had a long relationship with poverty, with 50.9% of the population living below the national poverty line in 2016. This figure was predicted to increase in 2021 by The World Bank. Due to the heavy burden of poverty, many children deal with malnutrition. The civil war in Liberia during the 1990s, as well as the Ebola outbreak in 2014, have had significant impacts on overall life, including health care in Liberia.


Widespread poverty in Liberia has had far-reaching impacts on citizens’ lives. Apart from an inadequate health care infrastructure in Liberia, poverty also directly impacts the health of citizens in the form of malnutrition. The effects of malnutrition are far-reaching, especially for children. An estimated 32% of children younger than the age of 5 suffer stunting due to malnutrition.

Malnutrition also increases the risk of death and infections. Additionally, malnutrition can negatively affect a child’s brain function. The struggle stems from more than just a lack of food, but a lack of funds to afford foods with the proper nutrients. As of 2017, 69% of children under the age of 5 in Liberia are anemic.

Malnutrition has an adverse effect on economic efficiency, human capital and national development, according to USAID. Furthermore, the lack of resources such as clean water and proper sanitation increases the risk of stunting.

Partners in Rebuilding Health Care

The interconnectedness of the world means quick patterns of disease spread, which can lead to global health crises, as with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, impoverished countries, such as Liberia, have fragile health systems that are not well-equipped to properly manage such disease outbreaks.

Partners in Health (PIH) came to the country’s aid back in 2014 when the Ebola outbreak posed a massive threat to West Africans. Partners in Health continued to aid health care in Liberia, by strengthening the pre-existing health care facilities and infrastructure.

The organization’s aid has contributed to positive health impacts in Liberia. For instance, people dying from tuberculosis decreased from 15% to 0% after PIH support began in 2014. Also, mental health patients in Partners in Health supported facilities went up 30%. The organization has also helped train communities on health-promoting practices and provided training to health care professionals as well.

The world is more interconnected than ever, which means that countries are more able to help one another and collaborate to combat global poverty.

– Kelsey Jensen
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine DiplomacyWhile the COVID-19 vaccine has helped to reduce destruction and devastation from the pandemic, the virus is still spreading across the globe. According to Dr. Peter Hotez “organized hostility against the scientific community,” may be public health’s biggest enemy. However, on a global scale, the most serious threat is the lack of vaccine diplomacy and effective health care in geopolitics. Solving this crisis requires the United States and other western countries to prioritize the distribution of pandemic response resources so that everyone can lead healthy, safe lives regardless of their location.

Inequities of Vaccine Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the global death rate by 20%, shut down economies and dismantled health care systems across the world. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine is now readily available in many developed countries, many low-income countries remain highly unvaccinated while the United States eases pandemic funding. With monkeypox cases on the rise, the fight against global health crises has hit a major roadblock, as low-income countries are scrambling for vaccine resources amid slowing economies.

Developed countries have a humanitarian responsibility to ensure that low-income countries have access to the healthcare resources that North American and European countries have. Additionally, novel variants of COVID-19 often arise from unvaccinated populations, which means that the pandemic will only worsen unless we make a concerted effort to fully vaccinate developing and low-income countries, according to Dr. Hotez.

Making a Commitment to Vaccine Diplomacy

Today, less than 20% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The next step is for the United States and other world leaders to provide more resources to help get shots into people’s arms in developing countries. According to The Borgen Project’s action center, “This essential funding will go towards vaccines, tests, last-mile efforts and treatment so we can continue vaccinating the rest of the world, save lives and prevent new variants from emerging.” It’s an important investment that will not only save the lives of people in the most vulnerable places across the globe but will also help to protect the well-being of Americans.

Overall, vaccine diplomacy is also necessary to conquer vaccine skepticism, which is keeping millions of people from getting vaccinated. In order to effectively fight against the worsening global health crisis of COVID-19 and monkeypox, the United States and other economic powerhouses should prioritize geopolitical cooperation with developing countries to collaborate on equitably distributing vaccine resources.

– Ella DeVries
Photo: Flickr

USGLC Global Impact ForumOn June 13, 2022, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s (USGLC) Global Impact Forum took place. The USGLC Global Impact Forum 2022 entailed conversations with leading stakeholders and policymakers surrounding the role of the U.S. in the global sphere.

7 Key Discussions of the USGLC Global Impact Forum 2022

  1. Current Humanitarian Crises in Numbers. Across the globe, as many as 323 million people endure acute hunger and 100 million people have been forcibly displaced. In addition, just 17% of people in low-income nations have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
  2. Local Impact of Global Events. In simple terms, what happens globally impacts the U.S. domestically. An evident example of this is the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Current spikes in food prices in the U.S. reflect how the pandemic impacts the United States on a national level. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also led to wheat export blocks, causing food shortages in countries in the Middle East and Africa. Famine can create instability and unrest, which can translate into conflict, and while conflict is a problem in itself, it also creates more problems like displacement and forced migration. Rising food prices across the world highlight the interconnectedness of the global food supply chain.
  3. Vaccines. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) has said “America might be done with the pandemic, but the global pandemic is not done with the world.” With COVID restrictions easing and life gradually going back to normal, it is easy to believe that there are no more obstacles to surpass. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Though the U.S. has committed to supplying roughly 1.2 billion vaccines globally, there remain issues with manufacturing and distribution. Less than 1% of vaccines consumed in Africa are manufactured locally, therefore, vaccine distribution is critical to effectively tackle COVID-19 and future pandemics. Similarly, despite the heavy exports of vaccines, funding is still necessary to facilitate the process of getting doses into people’s arms.
  4. Food Insecurity. Secretary Tom Vilsack from the U.S. Department of Agriculture simplified the issue of food insecurity into three C’s: “COVID, Climate, Conflict.” Three factors that all contribute to the ongoing food crisis. USAID is actively working across the world to invest in urban agriculture, reduce food waste and increase domestic cropping and production of fertilizers and other inputs. As farmers stand at the center of the food system, they require support to enable the U.S. to keep markets open to supply fertilizers and other goods globally. At the moment, the focus is on the Ukrainian conflict — helping citizens in Ukraine as well as providing support to other countries affected by the reduced production capacity in Ukraine.
  5. Extreme Weather Patterns. President Biden has called on all federal agencies to also prioritize efforts to tackle extreme weather events. USAID launched a climate strategy in April 2022 that seeks to decrease carbon emissions by 6 billion tonnes and aims to invest $150 billion in climate-smart efforts, among other initiatives. This is critical considering that extreme weather events go hand-in-hand with economic insecurity, habitat destruction, internal and external migration and climate refugees.
  6. The Importance of Funding. For all the government officials, companies and NGOs present at the forum, the general consensus is that more funding is necessary to tackle the aforementioned global threats. More aid is needed from federal sources but also from the private sector which can benefit from these investments as well.
  7. Benefits for the U.S. A common misconception among U.S. citizens is that foreign aid solely benefits the recipient, but the USGLC Global Impact Forum 2022 showcased that foreign aid is mutually beneficial. Coca-Cola representative Joanna Price shared that 95% of consumers are based outside of the United States, making it critical to invest in the markets of tomorrow. U.S. companies have to maintain and grow connections globally as this will strengthen the global economy and secure democracy and stability. Domestically, supplying aid should be viewed opportunistically, as it can create a business environment and generate jobs for Americans to help partners abroad.

The USGLC Global Impact Forum reminds the U.S. about the importance of remaining engaged globally and providing adequate foreign aid for those in need.

– Claudia Efemini
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 vaccines for young childrenIn late June 2022, the CDC and FDA approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for young children such as Pfizer and Moderna for children ages 6 months to 5 years old. While countries worldwide have received vaccinations from Pfizer and Moderna, the U.S. is the first country to approve vaccines for children under five. Though children in this age group are less likely to experience severe infection than other age groups, the vaccines for young children were worth recommending as it works to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As countries across the globe continue to vaccinate their people, what does the U.S. approval of vaccines for children under five mean for people worldwide?

COVID-19’s Effect on Children Worldwide

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 543 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide. As of December 2021, 17,200 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in adolescents under the age of 20, making up 0.4% of deaths worldwide. The effect on children is harder to understand. Data on child excess mortality and case numbers are inconsistent. Numbers disproportionately represent high-income countries and while the pandemic hits the poorest children the hardest, the effects on middle and low-income countries are underreported.

Along with the direct health effects of contracting COVID-19, children are experiencing indirect effects from prolonging the pandemic. Specifically in low-income countries, children have been affected by the strain on the healthcare system, such as disruptions from routine care and lost family income.

For example, according to UNICEF, 80 million children under the age of one may miss out on other essential vaccines because of the disruptions of the pandemic in May 2020. With increased vaccination rates worldwide, the hope is the pandemic can be mitigated and such effects on children will decrease.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for young children approved in the U.S. have a smaller dosage than their adult counterparts. For Moderna, two doses given four weeks apart are 25 micrograms each. With Pfizer, three shots contain three micrograms each. Each vaccine contains just a fraction of the dosage given to adults.

Worldwide Childhood Vaccine Distribution

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health care responses have not been equitable across the globe. While 66% of the world has been vaccinated against COVID-19, only 16% of people in low-income countries have received one dose as of May 2022. Initiatives similar to the WHO’s COVAX program has helped distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries. As of May 2022, Pfizer has distributed 3.5 billion COVID-19 vaccines to over 175 countries.

As the U.S. was the first country to approve Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children under 5 years old, other efforts are underway across the world. Pfizer and Moderna are not the only COVID-19 vaccines, as a Cuban vaccine has been given to over 1.7 million children under the age of 18. This vaccine is now being produced for Iran, Vietnam and Venezuela.

Vaccine Regulations and Authorizations

Pfizer and Moderna are some of the most prominent vaccines as they are making up around 33.6% of the total vaccines distributed in Africa. The companies are working to get vaccines for young children approved in other countries. Pfizer says they are committed to protecting all age groups from COVID-19 and are working to ensure other countries will follow the actions of the U.S. authorization. The company plans to submit authorizations for vaccinations under five to regulators around the world. For example, the company will request authorization from the European Medical Agency beginning in July 2022.

Ultimately, the vaccine regulations and processes differ for each country. Countries will license various vaccines for different age groups depending on their own analysis of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. As WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan states, countries should follow their guidelines to determine their own calculated risks. Vaccine companies like Pfizer and Moderna will work with health care providers, governments and communities as they continue to expand access to healthcare throughout the world.


While it is unclear when each country will approve vaccines for young children and start distributing the shots, companies similar to Pfizer are working around the world to make sure children will have access to the vaccine.

Abigail Turner
Photo: Flickr

MADIBA Vaccine FacilityThe true scope of vaccine inequality in Africa proved evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of 2021, more than 92% of Africa’s 1.2 billion residents had not received full vaccinations against COVID-19. Furthermore, in 2021, low-income and developing nations received less than 2% of COVID-19 vaccines created by Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech. Low vaccination rates have had far-reaching impacts, such as drops in school attendance. By May 2021, almost 750,000 children stopped attending school in South Africa alone. The establishment of the MADIBA vaccine facility in Senegal brings hope to Africa in terms of vaccine access.

As of 2020, 39% of Senegal’s population lives in poverty and 60% of the population is younger than 25 years old, according to the World Food Programme. Only 25% of families in Senegal do not suffer from chronic poverty. The MADIBA vaccine facility project offers a brighter future for Senegal’s younger generation and hope for those in need of vaccines throughout Africa.

MADIBA Vaccine Facility and Poverty

On June 2, 2022, the hope for higher vaccination rates in the future became a reality. The Institut Pasteur de Dakar is a “nonprofit association of public utility” in West Africa committed to improving public health and fighting deadly diseases. The Institut Pasteur de Dakar and the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced the close of a €75 million agreement to construct a vaccine manufacturing facility in Senegal.

The Manufacturing in Africa for Disease Immunisation and Building Autonomy project (MADIBA) aims to decentralize vaccine production and provide vaccines domestically to residents. With the production of vaccines in Africa, the Institut Pasteur de Dakar plans to distribute essential vaccines and improve public health in Senegal and other African countries in need.

Vaccine Production and Imports

Africa currently relies on imports for vital vaccines needed to combat endemic diseases. In fact, Africa imports 99% of its vaccines from other continents. Aspen, a South African vaccine manufacturer announced in May 2022 that it would pause its production of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines after producing 180 million doses. The MADIBA vaccine facility has the ability to produce 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines (or other vaccines) a year.

The MADIBA vaccine facility stands as the “first full-service vaccine production facility” in Africa. While Africa has vaccine plants in various countries, most are limited to packaging vaccines. Producing doses of vaccines in Africa would reduce the need for imports and create a new market for future generations.

Construction and Vaccine Production

On March 29, 2022, the creators of the vaccine manufacturing facility shipped it to Senegal. KeyPlants created and assembled the facility in Sweden, then disassembled it for shipment. The process took less than eight months. KeyPlants, a Swedish company, designs modular, “innovative life science facilities.” The facility is portable and can be scaled over time to meet the demand for production. The facility expects to begin the production of vaccines in Africa at the end of 2022.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MADIBA vaccine facility will produce mRNA vaccines along with other life-saving vaccines, including yellow fever vaccines. Yellow fever is endemic in tropical locations of Africa and death rates range from 29,000 to 60,000 deaths each year in Africa. Along with standard vials of vaccines, the MADIBA vaccine facility will produce pouches of vaccines at the new facility. The facility can store each pouch, containing 200 doses each, in a refrigerator for about six days.

Looking Forward

The MADIBA vaccine facility project will continue to fight the imbalance of vaccines in Africa. To combat childhood deaths, the facility hopes to produce vaccines for polio, rubella and measles in the future. In sub-Saharan Africa, “pregnant women who were hospitalized with COVID-19 had double the risk of death compared to nonpregnant women with similarly severe cases” and five times the risk of expectant mothers without COVID-19.

With the MADIBA vaccine facility, more pregnant women would have access to vaccines, reducing the risk of death for themselves and their children. With these protections, maternal and child mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa would lower.

The facility will also offer job opportunities to young Africans, which will lower unemployment rates in Senegal and lead to economic growth. With increased access to vaccines, combating deadly but preventable diseases in Africa can become a reality without the need for imports.

– Sara Sweitzer
Photo: WikiCommons

HIV/AIDS in Venezuela
Efforts to address HIV/AIDs in Venezuela are facing barriers as the country is grappling with limited access to medications, health care and products to maintain sexual health. Due to the Venezuelan economic and political crisis, medical workers are pouring out of the country. Additionally, the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela has estimated that the country has had an 85% shortage of medicine as of 2018, making HIV/AIDs in Venezuela difficult to prevent and treat.

Venezuela’s Health Care System

Venezuela’s collapsing medical system has led to dire sexual education and limited condom access; many citizens have claimed that condoms are scarce at clinics, or egregiously expensive. In 2019, a pack of condoms was about $170 in Venezuela and people had to wait in long lines to purchase them.

The cost of condoms is a huge burden, as more than three-quarters of Venezuelans have been living in extreme poverty as of 2021. This has made Venezuela very vulnerable to sexually transmitted disease (STDs) transmission, including HIV, the deadliest STD there is. Therefore, HIV/AIDS in Venezuela has become an urgent humanitarian concern.

Understanding HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention

To prevent the spread of HIV, which is an STD that is highly preventable through condom use, individuals can get tested to limit the spread of the infection. In the case of treatment, antiviral drugs, or so-called “anti-HIV cocktails,” are highly successful in keeping HIV at bay so people do not subsequently contract AIDS.

AIDS is quite deadly and emerges at the point where the HIV virus has destroyed its host’s immune system. Although HIV is impossible to eliminate from the human body, a patient with the virus has about the same expected life expectancy as a patient without it. However, this is only true if the HIV-positive patient is receiving proper access to health care and HIV antiretroviral therapy. Otherwise, 90% of patients with the virus can expect to contract AIDS, which is fatal in eight to 10 years on average.

Venezuela’s HIV Crisis

Thus, HIV/AIDS in Venezuela has become a crisis precipitously with the country’s economic crisis. In a proper contagious disease protocol, citizens would have proper access to HIV testing. However, in a country with a medicine and health care shortage, this is hard to come by. Additionally, since many people with HIV experience discrimination, they often experience embarrassment at the possibility of testing. As of 2020, UNAIDS estimated that approximately 120,000 Venezuelans were HIV positive, which is about 0.3% of the country’s population.

HIV-Positive Refugees

HIV/AIDS in Venezuela is forcing citizens to leave to save their lives and obtain access to antiviral drugs elsewhere. The Venezuelan Network of Positive People has estimated that 10,000 Venezuelans had to leave due to poor HIV treatment options as a result of the economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2019. The only option HIV-positive Venezuelans have is to leave their homes to get the health care they need.

HIV and Venezuela’s Economic and Political Crisis

This situation is quite new for Venezuela. In fact, the country used to be a leading place for HIV treatment in the early 2000s. Since 1999, those with HIV/AIDS in Venezuela had access to free, government-funded treatment. Its public health system specifically targeted citizens that often experienced discrimination such as sex workers and other minority groups. However, under the political control of Hugo Chavez and his successors, such a program does not exist any longer. Unfortunately, political stability may be necessary before HIV-positive Venezuelans can receive treatment again.

Infected Venezuelan Refugees Find Hope in Colombia

About 1.7 million Venezuelans, or 37% of all Venezuelans, were living in Colombia as of 2021. Since Colombia has the highest Venezuelan refugee population, Colombian HIV/AIDS organizations are specifically targeting HIV-positive Venezuelans immigrating to the country.

The nonprofit Colombia AIDS Health care Foundation, founded in 2018 is one such example. Since its founding, it has provided HIV testing, condom delivery, outreach and treatment for HIV-positive persons. The organization provided antiretroviral drugs to 1,850 Colombians, mostly Venezuelan migrants, at a time as of 2021. The nonprofit works with the Colombian government, which provides free HIV treatment to documented migrants and undocumented migrants in emergency situations.

It is inspiring to see a country do so much to help its neighbors during an emergency. With other countries being not only willing to take in Venezuelan refugees but also to give them the medical care they need, there is hope for many Venezuelans.

– Mikaela Marinis
Photo: Unsplash

Vaccinating Maré's favelasDespite Brazil’s largely successful vaccine program, it is only now that Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, is experiencing mass vaccination against COVID-19. One thousand professionals vaccinated a significant portion of the population. In schools, “health centers” and other sites, these professionals look to vaccinate upwards of 30,000 people between 18 and 34 throughout the community. Organizer planned to give community members the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was produced by the Fiocruz institute.

Why the Vaccination Drive?

This effort is not permanent and cannot indefinitely supply vaccines. A primary goal of the effort is to conduct a study on the effects of mass vaccinations in such a large complex, which is home to widespread “poverty and violence” and often does not reap the same benefits as wealthier areas of Rio. In Maré, which contains 16 favelas, more than half of the inhabitants are under 30.

Maré has seen about 350 deaths since the pandemic began, but reporting difficulties in many other favelas often means that even official counts are artificially low. The study will utilize genomic sequencing to track variants and will seek to understand vaccine efficacy in the face of the virus evolving. Vaccinating Maré’s favelas stands as a novel move. The study’s uniqueness stems from its size, its target population and its location. Since rapid spreading can lead to a rise in variants, using a favela, rather than a hospital or health unit, is beneficial to research into variants.

Maré’s Social Mobilisation

Along with the program, Maré’s greatest strength in responding to the pandemic has been its social mobilization. Campaigns to reduce the number of deaths work through local media, social networks and word of mouth. The NGO Redes da Maré and the Mare Mobilization Front both work to inform and educate the public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths from nearly 100,000 cases. The dashboard focuses on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, cases and deaths are both underreported, and the Unified Dashboard does not cover every favela, meaning that the actual death toll is doubtlessly much greater. For these reasons and more, vaccinating Maré’s favelas remains a key priority.

Understanding the Dashboard

The dashboard began in April 2020 “when grassroots organizations participating in projects organized by Catalytic Communities (CatComm) began to report cases and deaths in virtual meetings of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN).” CatComm began a reporting initiative through newspapers and word of mouth from community groups themselves. Other methods included individual outreach for data collection, outreach to local health clinics or through WhatsApp, and analysis of available data when accessible.

The initiative gained traction because of a catalyzing unwillingness by the government to “survey favelas.” The dashboard was officially launched on July 7, 2020, according to its website, and has grown with each new press conference surrounding its progress. Campaigns like #VacinaPraFavelaJá have arisen to promote vaccination and have even enlisted figures like cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Looking Forward

While the initiation of the vaccine process is a welcome one to many inhabitants of Maré, it has begun only after countless deaths and governmental neglect. The widespread nature and varied methods of the Unified Dashboard have meanwhile shown how collective action can keep communities afloat even in the absence of sufficient governmental intervention. Moreover, with strong community engagement and growing governmental support, vaccinating Maré’s favelas could lead to a more secure and safe future in due time.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Unsplash

Shot@Life CampaignThrough the use of public education, grassroots advocacy and fundraising, [email protected] strives to decrease vaccine-preventable childhood deaths to zero by the year 2030. The [email protected] campaign has an overall goal for every child to have a shot at life no matter where they live.

7 Facts About the [email protected] Campaign

  1. The initiative began as a grassroots advocacy campaign. [email protected] was founded in 2011 as part of the United Nations Foundation that aims to ensure that children around the world have access to lifesaving vaccines. Its programs help raise awareness and funds that contribute to child immunization programs hosted by world health organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The campaign has amassed thousands of supporters over the years, ranging from members of Congress to local and national businesses.
  2. [email protected] recognizes the importance of vaccines for saving children’s lives. Projections indicate that 17.7 million deaths may be averted in children under age five years as a result of vaccinations administered from 2011 to 2020.  With medicine continuing to evolve, diseases that have been around for hundreds of years are finally able to be addressed.
  3. The campaign focuses on four main vaccines. The four vaccine-preventable diseases it centers its attention on are polio, measles, pneumonia and rotavirus. To this day, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan are still polio-endemic countries. Additionally, the majority of people who contract measles were unvaccinated. Diarrhea, a common consequence of rotavirus, and pneumonia are two of the leading causes of child mortality. Combined, they account for approximately 1.4 million deaths around the world every year.
  4. [email protected] achieved a lot during its first five years of operation. Through the program’s support and its advocates, the campaign was able to secure over $2 billion in U.S. funding for global immunization programs between fiscal years 2012 to 2017. From its support of the United Nations’ partner programs between 2012 and 2016, the campaign was also able to provide more than 42 million children around the world with life-saving vaccines. In collaboration with its global partners, [email protected] was also able to contribute to the 84% drop in global measles deaths from 2000 to 2016, which saved more than 20 million children’s lives. Another accomplishment is the fact that 16 million people who otherwise would have been paralyzed by polio are still walking thanks to the partnership between [email protected] and the U.N. Foundation’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
  5. It has hosted multiple campaigns with the pharmacy, Walgreens. Walgreens has been one of the key partners of [email protected] since the beginning of the campaign’s advocacy efforts. [email protected] partnered with the drugstore chain on the “get a shot, give a shot” campaign, which aims to supply 100 million vaccines by 2024 to children in need around the world. This campaign, which began in 2013, is still in operation to this day. Its most recent campaign with Walgreens began on September 1, 2020, with Walgreens pledging to donate $0.23 per immunization shot a patient receives from a Walgreens pharmacy. The fundraiser runs until December 31, 2020, and is set to raise a maximum of $2.6 million
    for [email protected]
  6. The campaign runs a blog dedicated to [email protected] and vaccine-related issues. Part of its educational efforts includes hosting and contributing to the [email protected] blog. With its first post dating back to 2011, the posts cover a variety of topics about vaccines and success stories related to the campaign. One of its most recent articles broke down COVID-19’s negative impact on refugees and providing them with adequate healthcare, including vaccines.
  7. [email protected] outlines a variety of ways to advocate for the campaign. Through its “take action now” page on its website, [email protected] highlights numerous ways U.S. constituents can put their support behind the campaign and efforts to provide vaccines for children globally. It encourages reaching out to U.S. Senators and Representative’s offices by calling, emailing and writing letters to get [email protected] on their radar to support. One of its programs, “[email protected] Champions,” is a way for members of the public to increase their support of the organization. These advocates attend training webinars and events to learn how to further the efforts of the campaign as well as encourage other members in the community to join the cause.

Since its beginning in 2011, [email protected] has amassed more than 350,000 supporters and 2,000 grassroots advocates in all 50 U.S. states who call on their communities to support the campaign for global vaccines. Through education and advocacy, [email protected] acknowledges the vital role that providing vaccines for children plays in preventing their deaths, especially in developing nations.

– Sara Holm
Photo: Flickr