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HIV/AIDS Epidemic: A Public Health Threat In Africa

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HIV is a virus that compromises the immune system’s ability to fight infection. CD4 cells, which are a kind of immune cell called T cell, are negatively affected and eventually killed if left untreated(1).

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As HIV destroys more CD4 cells over time, the body becomes more susceptible to a variety of diseases and malignancies, including cancer.

HIV is spread by body secretions, which include the following:

  • blood
  • semen
  • fluids from the vaginal and rectal areas
  • breast milk

AIDS is a disease that can develop in HIV-positive individuals. It is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. However, just because someone carries HIV does not imply that they will get AIDS(2).

HIV is capable of killing CD4 cells. CD4 counts in healthy people range between 500 and 1,600 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.

The diagnosis of AIDS is made in the case of an HIV-positive person whose CD4 count falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter.

Since the first HIV case was recorded in 1981, the virus has grown to become one of the world’s most significant health threats, with an estimated 76 million individuals infected with HIV worldwide.

The number of individuals living with HIV has increased to 38 million since the global epidemic began, and tens of millions have died as a result of AIDS-related diseases since then(3).

Global Efforts

Even though HIV is a worldwide disease, no continent has been more severely affected than Africa.

Africa is home to roughly one out of every twenty individuals who are infected with HIV, accounting for close to 70% of all HIV/AIDS infections worldwide today.

Furthermore, of all children living with HIV around the globe, 91 percent are found in Africa, according to UNICEF.

In the last two decades, there have been significant global efforts to combat the global epidemic, and significant progress has been made.

The number of newly infected persons with HIV, as well as the number of AIDS-related fatalities, has been gradually declining around the world.

Additionally, there has been a rise in the number of people undergoing therapy at the same time.

Although there are obstacles to the worldwide effort to combat the global epidemic, some of the difficulties faced by those living with HIV or at risk of contracting HIV include limited access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee’s sixty-sixth session approved a Framework for Action in the WHO African Region 2016–2020.

The framework is intended to assist Member States in executing the Global HIV/AIDS Sector Strategy for 2016–2020.

It discusses measures to expedite HIV prevention and treatment activities in Africa to bring the AIDS epidemic to an end.

Prioritizing HIV prevention, increasing HIV testing services through diverse techniques, and scaling up antiretroviral medication through new service delivery models are among the recommended activities.

The World Health Organization is a co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS).

UNAIDS initiatives on HIV treatment and care, HIV and TB coinfection, and works with UNICEF to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission are worth praising(4).

Key Population of Importance

For the first time, key groups and their sexual partners accounted for more than half of all new infections (an estimated 54 percent) in 2018.

Men who have sex with men, individuals who inject drugs, persons in jails and other restricted environments, sex workers and their clients, and transgender people are all key demographics.

They are at a higher risk of HIV infection regardless of the kind of epidemic or the local environment.

Key populations, their customers, and sexual partners accounted for 64% of new HIV infections in West and Central Africa and 25% in the East and Southern African subregion.

Across 2018, key groups and their partners accounted for over 95% of new HIV infections all over Africa.

Key groups are frequently subjected to legal and societal hurdles that enhance their vulnerability to HIV and limit their access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment programs(5).

HIV Statistics in Africa

Africa is the world’s most impacted area by HIV, and it is also home to the greatest number of individuals who are infected with the virus.

The HIV epidemic in this region is widespread, but young women, men who have sex with other males, transgender individuals, sex workers, convicts, and those who inject drugs are at particular risk of contracting HIV.

The availability of HIV testing facilities has increased in recent years, and less than two out of every ten persons living with HIV are now ignorant of their status.

Even though the number of individuals living with HIV in Africa is rising, access to antiretroviral therapy is also improving.

Although laws and cultural practices differ from country to country throughout East and Southern Africa, there are several deeply established cultural, institutional, and legal impediments to HIV prevention(6).

U.S. to the Rescue: President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief

The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) launched by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2003, is the largest commitment made by any nation to combat a single disease in history.

PEPFAR demonstrates the power of compassionate, cost-effective, responsible, and transparent American overseas aid.

PEPFAR works with African partners and their Ministry of Health to prevent new HIV infections, connect individuals living with HIV to lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, and ensure they can stay on treatment(7).

In Africa, PEPFAR delivers the following services:

  • HIV testing and counseling
  • Antiretroviral therapy (ART)
  • Promotion and distribution of condoms
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis distribution and education
  • The initiative of DREAMS, a program that empowers teenage girls and young women.
  • Voluntary medical male circumcision
  • Pregnancy-related antiretroviral therapy
  • Aid to orphans and vulnerable children infected with HIV/AIDS
  • TB screening, prevention, and treatment
  • Strengthening of healthcare systems
  • Mobilization of the community

Conclusion

Fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa is a long-term endeavor that will take persistent commitment and preparation on the part of both local governments, non-profit organizations, and the international community to be successful.

Inadequate financial resources, along with a lack of strategic knowledge, have resulted in numerous high-impact HIV prevention programs in the region not being executed to the appropriate level or on the necessary scale, despite their importance.

These mechanisms must be enhanced for the region’s HIV response to be evidence-based and, as a result, to be more successful overall.

More than just numbers are required to fight the HIV epidemic in this region; practical solutions are also required.

These solutions must consider the many obstacles to HIV treatment and care that exist throughout the area.

As a result, the facilities of local communities must be addressed to ensure that local groups can implement programs to achieve the United Nations’ goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota

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