Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the worst affected areas for HIV/AIDS across the world. As of 2013, 71% of the global total of HIV patients came from this region. This means 24.7 million living with HIV, a prevalence rate of 4.7% and 39% of adults in some form of ART.
Within this wider region, it is South Africa that has the largest epidemic and Swaziland with the highest prevalence of 27.4%.
This is of great concern in HIV prevention due to local contributing factors and obstacles. This is why organizations such as Avert are so important.
Why is HIV prevention such a problem in Sub-Saharan Africa?
The majority of cases of HIV infections in this area tend to be in young women, because of factors such as unsafe sexual practice, prostitution, and drug use.
This is why ART programs focus on the mother to baby transmission (PMTCT) are so important.
There has been a decline in new infections in children on a regional level, but some areas, like Nigeria, still struggle. Then there are the risks for men that have sex with men and LGBT individuals in countries where sexuality is still a taboo subject.
The situation in Africa is improving thanks to the efforts and programs of organizations like Avert.
Avert is a leading figure in the world of HIV prevention and education. They have worked to improve the lives of patients and those affected by the illness since their launch in 1986.
Since then, they have boldly led the way in their aim to decrease transmissions, increase accessibility to care and improve attitudes. Their programs in Africa help to bring aid and attention to communities in need.
However, their reach stretches further with the information and support offered on their website. Many now see them as the leading online source of guidance for HIV/AIDS.
The organization is heavily involved in campaigns across Sub-Saharan Africa they include:
Bwafwano Integrated Services Organisation (BISO) in Zambia. This program provides an integrated HIV/TB response, as TB is the leading cause of death for HIV patients in the area.
Phelisanang Bophelong (PB) in Lesotho, which works in close collaboration with young women and LGBTI communities in the area.
Sisonke in South Africa, where older generations receive education and support in their attempts to care for orphaned grandchildren.
Umunthu Foundation in Malawi, a specialist foundation for preventing mother-to-child transmission in a problem area of HIV prevention.
Stand Up to HIV, which encourages people to talk about the issues of HIV/AIDS and get themselves tested.
There are still many obstacles in place for Avert as they try and decrease transmissions through HIV prevention.
Improvements have come about for the treatment, screening and general education of HIV in Africa. However, some positive actions also have adverse reactions.
A WHO initiative in 2013 increased eligibility for ART. Under the old rules, ART was only offered to those with a CD4 count of 350 or less. The 2013 rules changed this to 500 or less. More people are eligible, but that doesn’t mean that the treatment is accessible.
In fact, ART coverage across the eligible population decreased from 68% to 39%. At-risk adults in some areas are receiving treatment while children are often left behind.
As of 2013, 89% of HIV-positive children in West and Central Africa did not have access to the treatment needed.
There are two key barriers hindering availability of treatment to all those that need it. They are the economic issues of cost and funding and the social and political constraints.
Without adequate funding, there is no chance that ART and other important programs can reach those that need them the most. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding HIV, sexuality, and women with the disease.
Women face discrimination in the workplace for becoming infected. Many cases are the result of sexual assault or accidental contact. There are also issues with some HIV laws in Africa. For example, the criminalization of virus transmission puts mothers at significant risk.
These barriers and social issues have led to three critical frameworks in the treatment of HIV in Africa.
Avert Biomedical Interventions For HIV Prevention:
The first step in the treatment of HIV patients is the provision of medical care. This occurs through testing procedures, treatment options and additional aids for safe sex.
They offer to test for HIV and other STIs through blood screening as part of sex and reproductive health services. Those that test positive receive ART through PMTCT, pre-exposure prophylaxis or post-exposure prophylaxis, as required.
From there, Avert HIV prevention services look at additional measures to prevent further transmission. They include the distribution of condoms, needle programs, and voluntary medical male circumcision.
Avert Behavioral Interventions For HIV Prevention:
Then there are all the educational programs to teach vulnerable individuals about their options. For some, this can be a simple as basic sex education for young people or new patients.
In addition to this, they aim to offer guidance on stigma reduction to change attitude, cash transfer programs and safe feeding practices for children.
The final tool here is psycho-social support for all those that have become infected and are struggling to deal with the situation.
The Structural Interventions For HIV Prevention:
Structural HIV prevention methods work for the treatment of HIV-infected individuals in the workplace. This means trying to improve laws for patients, to decriminalize factors leading to HIV transmission and to decrease stigma.
This needs to occur across the board, from attitudes to HIV patients in society to those in the workplace and law enforcement.
The work in HIV prevention is admirable, but the work is far from over. The ongoing issues in social, political and economic barriers and limited access mean that many HIV-positive individuals still struggle.
These interventions in structural change, behavioral measures, and medical care are a vital lifeline.
Without dedicated organizations like this, the rate of infection and transmission would rise, and patients would be at greater risk.