Around the world, HIV remains one of the world’s foremost infectious killers. Despite the fact that it may take 10-15 years for HIV to digress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), collectively HIV and AIDS are responsible for the deaths of more than 25 million people in the past thirty years. Infecting almost 3 million people every year, HIV remains a huge threat to well-being around the world despite enormous advancements in the capacity of health systems to support people living with the disease.
Perhaps not surprisingly, more than 60% of the 34 million people living with HIV live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi, one in every 12 people is infected with HIV – that’s 90,000 children living with the disease and another 30,000 newborns contracting the infection from their mothers at birth. Additionally, 650,000 Malawian children have been orphaned by the epidemic, and are counted among the infection’s burden in this country. Similarly, 1.5 million adults and children are living with HIV/AIDS in Mozambique, where the infection claims the lives of nearly 100,000 people every year.
Despite these challenges, incredible progress has been made. Mother to child transmission is almost entirely preventable with the right care and rates of prevention are increasing (10% in 2004 to 45% in 2008). Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is more readily available now than it ever has been, with more than 5 million people receiving the treatment they need to live longer, healthier lives. While this is a twelve-fold increase in the number receiving care since 2003, it still represents only one-third to one-quarter of the total population in need of treatment. With more than 1,200 children infected around the world each day, it is vital to sustain this momentum toward testing and treatment in resource-constrained countries.
Working in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is unimaginable for our efforts not to be impacted by this infectious disease. With treatments available in most government facilities, international emphasis has shifted to helping people live with this infection. Many of the community members we work with are living with the illness, but the health systems we support are often overextended trying to reduce the burden of disease.
So on this World AIDS Day, we’re excited to be expanding our programs over the upcoming year to have a more direct impact on the reduction of HIV/AIDS burden in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi, we are incorporating community-based HIV counseling and testing into our adult health service initiatives so that more people can access treatment that is already available from at government facilities. In Mozambique, we already help support the distribution of rapid diagnostic tests for HIV to ensure that diagnosis is available at service delivery points. In 2012, we are starting a study of RDT usage to better understand the barriers to utilizing new technology for improved diagnosis and to further improve the distribution of these tests. In both situations we hope to be able to improve accessibility to HIV testing in rural communities so that individuals can get the care they need.