History will judge us on how we respond to the AIDS emergency in Africa….whether we stood around with watering cans and watched while a whole continent burst into flames….or not. – Bono.
30 Years Later, Working Harder Than Ever For a World without HIV/AIDS
“On June 5, 1981 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describing cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles. All the men had other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems are not working; two had already died by the time the report was published. This edition of the MMWR marks the first official reporting of what will become known as the AIDS epidemic.” www.aids.gov
That was the beginning.
Fast forward to present day.
Progress has been made, but still; altogether too many people worldwide are dying from HIV/AIDS
HIV infection comes in three stages.
1) Acute infection or seroconversion period – Typically happens within 2 – 6 weeks after exposure. This is when the body’s immune system puts up a fight against HIV. The symptoms of acute infection look similar to those of other viral illness, such as the flu.
2) Asymptomatic period – After the initial period, the immune system loses the battle with HIV and symptoms disappear. This long period – sometimes up to ten years in duration – is when people may not know they are infected and can pass HIV on to others.
3) AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) – This is the advanced stage of HIV infection, when the CD4 T-cells number in an individual has dropped below 200 and/or they develop and “AIDS defining illness” such as Kaposi’s sarcoma (a form of skin cancer) or pneumocystis pneumonia (lung disease).
You can imagine the vast number of people infected with HIV/AIDS by a carrier during the 1st or 2nd stages, because those periods of infection are highly asymptomatic. By the 3rd stage, however, the symptoms of AIDS are full blown and much more obvious. Unexplained weight loss, purplish spots of the skin, and yeast infections of the mouth are only a few of the highly visible end stage AIDS symptoms.
The spread of HIV infection is attributed to 4 main factors: Transmission of HIV infection during sex, through blood transfusions, by sharing needles, and from mother to child (in utero, during delivery and/or breast feeding.)
Despite the decades-long efforts by millions of dollars and people dedicated to finding a cure for AIDS,prevention remains the most effective defense against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Significant progress has been made. There are lots of reasons AIDS is more under control these days, from improved sexual education to needle exchange programs. Most important, though, is the widespread availability of anti-retroviral drugs, which allow HIV and AIDS patients to live with lower viral loads, making it less likely that they’ll pass the disease on.
PCI has been at the forefront of global organizations dedicated to decreasing the number of deaths due to HIV related illnesses, and especially reducing the number of new cases. The numbers reveal the strength of progress. Worldwide, the number of adults and children acquiring HIV in 2011 was a full 20% lower than in 2001. Such evidence of success has encouraged PCI workers to step up efforts in HIV/AIDS treatment, and especially prevention, with the theme for 2011 through 2015 – Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS Related Deaths. PCI focuses on a holistic approach, assisting those most at risk through community based interventions that are multi-faceted and comprehensive. These interventions include: home-based care and outreach, antiretroviral therapy, access to nutritional food, economic empowerment activities, and support groups, including those for caregivers and orphans.
Unfortunately, AIDS in Africa remains a widely spread and devastating reality. Huge work needs to be done in order to reach global goals of reducing HIV’s impact on our world population.
An estimated 33 million people are living with HIV globally, while almost 1 million of these people live in Malawi. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Malawi caused severe damage to Malawi’s social and economic infrastructure. Farmers and workers weren’t able to provide food and support their families, and children could not attend school, because they were infected with HIV or were caring for a family member who was. In recent times, a five-year National Strategic Framework to combat AIDS was implemented, as well as a National AIDS Policy, in an effort to decrease the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Although the Malawi government has made commendable efforts to increase treatment accessibility to HIV/AIDS patients, and improve prevention initiatives, the scale of the epidemic and shortage of resources have hindered progress.
PCI’s partnership with the Malawi Defense Force focuses on assisting and educating those most at risk through engaging senior leadership officials to play a significant role in reducing HIV prevalence among soldiers and their partners. PCI’s program focuses on building an effective peer education program by extending the current network of educators to include spouses and teenage children, as well as defense force and civilian personnel, to emphasize the importance of monogamous long-term relationships, and the importance of using a condom. PCI’s HIV/AIDS program also provides services including: home-based care and outreach, antiretroviral therapy, access to nutritional food, and much more.
In South Africa, unfortunately, the news is not encouraging. Violence against women has become a prevalent and devastating contributor to the increased risk for female HIV infection. PCI’s program, Prevention in Action, seeks to create and sustain a shift in response to violence against women. In 2012, the project focused on promoting actions to stop violence against women; none more powerful than empowering the communities themselves. In ZwaZulu-Natal, as well as local communities in the Western Cape, Prevention in Action crews filmed over 100 authentic stories of actions taken to prevent violence against women. These videos were shared with the communities as a part of PCI’s tireless efforts – through Prevention in Action – to help establish Violence Free Zones that are community owned and led.
Based upon the evidence thus far, PCI and its partners believe that this new social norm – an active
intolerance for violence against women – will lead to declines in attacks, and thus a reduction of new HIV
infections for female members of these communities in Africa.
PCI is giving many who have lost hope a reason to believe in life again by providing family-centered care and support to thousands of people living with HIV in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
PCI focuses on assisting those most at risk through community-based interventions that offer services including home-based care and outreach; antiretroviral therapy and access to nutritional food; support groups and counseling; economic empowerment activities; and support for caregivers and orphans. By utilizing a network of dedicated volunteers and strengthening community-based organizations, PCI is ensuring vital care is reaching those who need it most.
Because of these holistic programs, PCI has reached over 360,000 men, women and children living with and affected by HIV, helping them lead healthier, more hopeful lives.