Fighting the Good Fight: Progress in HIV/AIDS Around the Globe

HIV Statistics and Stigma

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Around the world, 35 million people are currently living with HIV. HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, though no longer a death sentence, is still a public health concern worldwide, and continues to affect individuals from all ages, races, and backgrounds. A number of complex, intertwining factors – ranging from the biological to the socio-economic, continue to be barriers in eradicating the virus once and for all. In addition, many people living with HIV face crushing stigma, and may not have access to treatment; others do not have access to the proper sex education and prevention tools needed to combat the disease; and still others are bound by the social and cultural norms of their communities, where talking about HIV or sexual health-related topics is taboo. Thus, HIV remains as a tremendous public health concern in our modern world.

Though the outlook may seem dismal, a number of organizations, clinics, and groups around the world have made great strides in combating HIV and battling the stigma that is attached to it, and have given thousands of people hope and the promise of a better life. Here’s a look at some of these exemplary organizations from around the world, and what we can learn from them. 

Africa and HIV

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While HIV affects people the world over, the sub-Saharan countries in Africa face the brunt of the epidemic, with the greatest prevalence of HIV in the world – nearly 1 in 20 people currently live with HIV. The prevalence of HIV in this region has greatly affected this region’s economic development, education, and of course, healthcare. Many countries have stepped up the challenge in recent years in order to curtail the epidemic, with initiatives like condom distribution, voluntary testing and counseling, and increasing access to anti-retroviral treatment, or ART.

Recently, the Oshaango Clinic in Namibia was recognized by the US Ambassador to Namibia as one of the leading health centers in HIV/AIDS in Southwest Africa. Since 2003, the clinic has been a tremendous force in providing comprehensive HIV-related services and extensive community education, treatment, home-based care, access to testing and support for people living with HIV. Currently, Oshaango boasts six Integrated Management of Adolescent and Adult Illnesses (IMAI) sites and five ART clinics, through which HIV+ patients receive free ART treatment. Oshaango has also made great strides in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Oshaango Clinic will now serve as a model for other HIV clinics in this region of Namibia and beyond.  

Senegal: A Model Example

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In Western Africa, Senegal has been a model example for fighting the HIV epidemic. Within the country that practices both Islam and Christianity, strong political leadership, along with the mobilization of religious and community leaders, and community-based organizations has helped to contain the epidemic since the beginning. NGOs – or non-governmental organizations – such as SIDA Service, brought together churches and other religious institutions to create a network of care, sex education, support and prevention for HIV and people living with HIV. Currently, SIDA has 23 branches in Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Gambia. Senegal’s proactive approach to the HIV epidemic has certainly paid off – among sub-Saharan African countries, Senegal has the lowest prevalence of HIV, and continues to make efforts towards further prevention of the spread of the virus.

Asia and HIV

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Asia is home to about 5 million HIV-positive individuals, with about one fifth of the population living in India. India is the largest democratic nation in the world, with a diverse population of over 1 billion. Despite this diversity, talking about sex and sexuality is still largely taboo across the nation. In India, the HIV epidemic began with commercial sex workers, and has since spread into both the urban and rural populations. In a deeply patriarchal society, women in India are an especially vulnerable population for HIV, along with men who have sex with men (MSM) and commercial sex workers. Stigma, the lack of a proper sex education curriculum, and social and cultural norms have all contributed to the epidemic in India.

Organizations for Asians with HIV

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Thankfully, there are a number of organizations in India that are working towards de-stigmatizing HIV and providing care to people living with HIV. The Naz Foundation Trust, located in New Delhi, is specifically geared towards women and aims to address the issues that Indian women face regarding sex and sexuality, including HIV/AIDS. Working with other NGOs, Naz harnesses the power of the community in order to empower women and eliminate the stigma surrounding HIV. Along with its focus on women, Naz also works with marginalized groups, such as the LGBT and MSM communities, and has a successful program to help adolescent girls gain leadership skills through sports.

In recent years, another NGO, the YRG Centre for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE), has emerged as a top HIV care center in India, providing comprehensive and affordable treatment and linkage to care for people living with HIV.  Both Naz and YRG CARE serve as advocates within their respective communities and throughout India, pushing for better prevention efforts of HIV, sex education, policy changes, support for people living with HIV, and the de-stigmatization of HIV.

For HIV positive Asians living outside of Asia, groups such as the Banyan Tree Project encourage the Asian and Pacific Islander community to come together and share their stories about HIV in hopes of de-stigmatizing the disease, and providing care, support, and compassion for Asian people everywhere who live with HIV. 

Latin America and HIV

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In Latin America, the prevalence of HIV is largest in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina, resulting in 1.5 million individuals currently living with HIV. The barriers to eradicating the epidemic in this region of the world are often connected and complex. High rates of poverty and migration, drug use, cultural norms – which include homophobia and strong shows of masculinity (machismo), along with the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV, has made it difficult to eradicate the virus completely. The MSM community in this region is especially vulnerable, as homophobia is rampant, and the prevalence in this community is often overlooked and unaddressed when it comes to prevention efforts.

Brazil Leads by Example

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Brazil has the greatest number of people living with HIV, and it has created and implemented a comprehensive HIV strategy to reduce new HIV infections. Brazil’s focus for HIV prevention is on education, increased access to testing, tackling stigma and discrimination, and providing free ART to patients living with HIV. Brazil also has a unique strategy of safe sex promotion — openly sharing educational and often explicit messages on condom promotion and safe sex practices. While seen as controversial by other nations, guidelines from Brazil’s successful strategy have been adopted by 31 developing countries around the world. Today, 93% of Brazilians who are living with HIV are on ART which helps to curb the spread of HIV by reducing transmission rates. 

Continuing Progress

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There is so singular, perfect way to tackle the HIV epidemic. Factors that contribute to new infections are numerous, complicated, and often overlap, and are made further complex by barriers like culture, society, religion and language. However, the progress that has been made all over the world in fighting HIV thus far – with medically accurate sex education, removing barriers to treatment, advocating for prevention, and using culturally sensitive strategies – shows us that it can be done, and that no matter how large the hurdles may seem, there is hope for a better, HIV-free future.  


Tania Chatterjee is a recent graduate from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a Master’s in Reproductive and Cancer Biology, and is currently pursuing a career in the Reproductive and Sexual Health field with a focus on HIV. 

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