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The fight against spread of HIV/Aids continues.

The wheel is slowly turning around in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS. There is positive news in the latest UN report published in 2012. There are now an estimated 34 million people living with HIV. The number of deaths and new infections are coming down which is a positive sign but as funding becomes under increasing pressure from the economic downturn, the rate of decrease is particularly worrying. The numbers dying as a result of HIV/AIDS dropped by about 100,000 to 1.7 million people worldwide. New infections reduced from 2.6 million to 2.5 million people.

HIV/AIDS – by the numbers

Already 25 million people have died from HIV/AIDS. But many countries, including some of the poorest, are making real progress. HIV infections in these countries have been cut dramatically since 2001, by as much as 73% in Malawi. (UNAIDS report 2012)

Included in the 33 million people living with HIV are some millions who are alive because of increased access to ART (anti-retroviral therapy). Access to the treatment has grown tremendously in the past 24 months, with a global increase of 63%. Women living with HIV who receive ART during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding lower the risk of HIV transmission to their babies to less than 5%. (UNAIDS report 2012)

We have the knowledge and the means to defeat this global enemy – but have we the will to do so?

Although the availability of treatment is increasing globally, there is still the issue of nutrition, the other half of the battle. ART effectiveness is compromised if the patient is not well nourished. In third world countries there is much work to be done in providing infected people with adequate nutrition. In the countries most affected, HIV has already reduced life expectancy by more than 20 years, slowed economic growth, and deepened household poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the epidemic has orphaned nearly 14.8 million children. The natural age distribution has been dramatically skewed by HIV, with potentially perilous consequences for the transfer of knowledge and values from one generation to the next.

As in most epidemics, localised reverses occur. Despite global progress, the 2012 UNAIDS report relays that “Worrisome increases in AIDS-related mortality were observed in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (21%) and the Middle East and North Africa (17%).

According to UNDP, HIV has inflicted the “single greatest reversal in human development in modern history.”

According to the latest report from the UN, at the current rate of infections and deaths, HIV/AIDS will continue to be a significant epidemic for the next 40 to 50 years. This is shocking, but we must remember at least the numbers are going in the right direction. Sub-Saharan Africa has reduced AIDS-related deaths by one third in the last six years and increased the number of people on antiretroviral treatment by 59% in the last two years alone.

However, international assistance remains a critical lifeline for many countries. In 26 of 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, donor support accounts for more than half of HIV investments. The successes achieved in this field are good examples of determined national action, backed up by international co-operation and resources.

In just the three decades since the HIV epidemic started, over 30 million people have died of AIDS, and 34 million more have become infected with the deadly virus.

What is ElectricAid doing to help?

HIV/AIDS is a cross-cutting issue for ElectricAid, which serves to prioritise our funding in Health care, education, basic infrastructure, nutrition, and agriculture. We contribute to life-saving projects in the care of AIDS orphans, in Home Based Care, nutrition and medical care, AIDS education and behavioural change. Our projects have ranged from sophisticated web-based awareness projects, right down to the simple humanity of giving blankets to helpless people dying of AIDS. We also fund many projects which seek to economically empower survivors (mostly widows and orphans) with enterprise and education.

Since 2009 we have funded 37 projects, in 13 different countries with €287,000. These funds are saving and changing lives right now in India, Africa and Latin America.

The situation may be catastrophic, but the solutions are within our grasp. HIV+ people in developed countries live long and near normal lives. This can be attributed to increased awareness, education, the availability of anti-retroviral drugs and good nutrition. Through ElectricAid, we are helping HIV+ people in the developing world a chance to live near-normal lives, just like their counter-parts in developed countries.

Since you opened this message, 30 people have been infected with HIV, and 20 people have died of AIDS-related illness. That’s 3,456 new preventable infections and 2,304 preventable deaths by the end of today.

Can we just look away and ignore this avoidable tragedy?

Come on board, help us to help them in their hour of greatest need.


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The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and how we can reach out and help.

Lisa Fitzpatrick of ElectricAid discusses the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and how we can reach out and help.

8,000 people will die today in Africa as a result of something nobody knew about in 1980. HIV/AIDS was only recognised as such 20 years ago. Since then it has touched all areas of the world, infecting and killing millions. It is fast on the road to becoming the leading cause of death in the world in the 21st century.
HIV (Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus) is a virus that infects the immune system, which is our body’s natural defence against illness. It is an infectious disease and so can be passed on from one person to another. People who suffer from HIV are referred to as ‘HIV+’ or ‘HIV positive’.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by HIV and is a more developed form. AIDS is very much a slow and silent killer. A person infected with HIV may look and feel healthy for years but over time as their immune system weakens, they become more susceptible to diseases that they would normally be able to defend against. The progression from HIV to AIDS is an average of ten years, without drug treatment. This is also dependent on an individual having a decent diet. Poor diet and lack of medication may lead to an individual progressing from HIV to AIDS and death much more rapidly. This is a significant issue in death rates from AIDS in the developing world.
HIV/AIDS is an infectious disease which can be passed on from one person to another. There are a number of ways in which this can occur: unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person, injecting drugs, use of infected blood products, contact with an infected person’s blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. Contrary to popular belief HIV/AIDS is not passed on from one person to another in any of the following ways; insect/animal bites, touching, hugging, shaking hands, eating food prepared by someone with HIV, toilet seats or sharing crockery or cutlery. These are common misconceptions which are unfounded and untrue.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. ‘Once HIV has taken hold, the immune system can never fully get rid of it’. Like everything the disease can affect different people in different ways. HIV is treatable but not curable. Antiretroviral medication can slow down the progression of this virus and many HIV/AIDS sufferers live full, happy lives. However, the reality is that ‘they have to take powerful medication every day of their lives, sometimes with very unpleasant side effects’. Probably the most upsetting of all is that once infected you never escape the clutches of the disease.
The majority of HIV/AIDS sufferers live in the developing world. AIDS/HIV is the main cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, ahead of malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases. A shocking 40 million or more people (adults and children) are living with AIDS globally – 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of AIDS, the average life expectancy in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to fall to 34 from 52 years.
There is a major knock-on effect with this disease. The very essence of normal life, families, societies and its institutions are being completely broken down by AIDS. When parents die their children are left orphaned. ‘In 2003 there were an estimated 15 million AIDS orphans around the world, expected to increase to 25 million in 2010’. Entire generations of younger, economically active people have disappeared, leaving behind dependent old people, widows, and orphans. Huge amounts of resources and development efforts are now being absorbed by this problem alone ‘AIDS in Africa is leading to famine, child death and a reversal of development progress’ and ‘is now a major public health problem and threat to social and economic development’. AIDS is no discriminator – it leaves clinics without doctors, schools without teachers, and fields without farmers.
A big problem with this disease is ignorance. 9 out of 10 people are unaware that they have the disease or how it is contracted. This is hardly surprising when you consider the fact that ‘a recent worldwide study revealed that about 40% of countries have not yet taken the basic step of including AIDS information in their school curriculum’ … ‘Only 50% of young women surveyed in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa know these facts, for CEE/CIS countries the figure is 43% and for Latin America and the Caribbean it is 25%’. Ignorance and denial is not confined to the poor. The otherwise progressive government of South Africa was hamstrung for some years in its attempts to deal with their AIDS pandemic by the refusal of the State President to believe in the reality of the disease and the extent of the problem. Some agencies have been ineffective because of their particular ethical concerns, although most Catholic NGOs, for example, have no problem with the use of condoms in preventing infection. Ignorance can result in cruelty and scapegoating of people. There can be a huge stigma attached to HIV/AIDS sufferers.
AIDS/HIV is becoming an epidemic. The simple truth remains that this disease is taking many innocent lives. Thankfully, more evidence and resources are available to help respond to AIDS. Many organisations and support groups are actively involved in the fight against this disease, and community mobilisation and education have been shown to be effective in slowing infection rates. Uganda has been particularly successful in this regard. The progress made in treating HIV/AIDS patients in the developed world, where being HIV positive is no longer seen as a death sentence, can be replicated in the developing world. As in other development issues, it is a matter of will and resources.
The main planks of the fight against HIV/AIDS are:
  • Care of HIV positive people, and of those suffering from AIDS. This has to include proper nutrition, and the use of antiretroviral drugs. The cost of this medication is a huge issue for developing countries. A recent ElectricAid project was not for high-tech medicines, but simply for blankets for AIDS sufferers. We have also funded the development of HBC (Home Based Care) programmes in Uganda and Kenya.
  • Care and education for AIDS orphans, many of whom are HIV positive themselves. HIV/AIDS is one of ElectricAid’s funding priorities; we fund about 7-10 projects per year dealing with the care and education of AIDS orphans.
  • Prevention of new infections through behaviour modification and the promotion of safe sex practices.
  • Economic empowerment of survivors and widows. There are thousands of small widows’ groups in Africa, who have come together to help themselves in enterprise and agriculture. ElectricAid has been glad to help some of these groups.
  • Education and awareness campaigns – probably the most effective long term approach. ElectricAid has been active in this area, in projects ranging from leaflet campaigns, training of community animators, to web-based initiatives.

Essentially, this is the world’s battle. It took two centuries for Europe’s population and economy to recover from the Black Death. In the 21st century, are we to allow the developing world, and Africa in particular, to follow the same path? We can, and must, reach out and do otherwise.