By / Dec 14

This year marks the 15-year anniversary of former President George W. Bush signing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Here are five facts you should know about this historic global health relief effort.

1. The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a federal governmental initiative focused primarily on Africa to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and help save the lives of those suffering from the disease. The current budget for PEPFAR is $6.75 billion, with the total spending on the program since its inception being $72.7 billion. Since the start of PEPFAR, new HIV infections have declined between 41 percent (in Swaziland) and 76 percent (in Malawi). But as the U.S. government notes, PEPFAR has an impact beyond HIV/AIDS. As a recent report to Congress observed, PEPFAR’s investments in countries with sizable HIV/AIDS burdens have “bolstered their ability to swiftly address Ebola, avian flu, cholera, and other outbreaks, which ultimately protects America’s borders.” The program has also enhanced global health security, accelerating the progress toward a world more secure from infectious disease threats.

2. PEPFAR is widely regarded as one of the most effective and efficient foreign assistance programs in history. Before PEPFAR, as the U.S. government explains, “controlling the HIV/AIDS pandemic was unimaginable.” In many countries in Africa a diagnosis of HIV was not only a death sentence for the individual but the first stage in the impending collapse of entire families and communities. The disease was also wiping out many of the previous hard-won global health and development gains. In certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality doubled, child mortality tripled, and life expectancy dropped by 20 years because of the pandemic. Additionally, millions of babies were becoming infected with HIV and millions of children were being orphaned by AIDS. The result is that large numbers of children were susceptible to “recruitment by negative influencers,” including for sex trafficking and as “child soldiers” (i.e., children being used for military purposes, including killing and other acts of violence).

3. In his memoir Decision Points, President Bush says that when he first took office he decided to “make confronting the scourge of AIDS in Africa a key element of my foreign policy.” He adds that he hoped that PEPFAR would “serve as a medical version of the Marshall Plan,” referring to the United State’s economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. At the time, the United Nations was projecting that AIDS could be the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages.

4. When PEPFAR was first introduced, a contentious debate broke out about funding of abstinence-based programs. As Mark DeYoung has pointed out, Democrats in Congress were seeking condom-centered prevention, and Republicans were demanding abstinence-only programs. In the midst of it all, Uganda’s first lady, Janet Museveni, came to Washington and made a compelling case for abstinence-based programs. Congress ultimately voted to earmark $1 billion of PEPFAR for abstinence-only-until-marriage efforts. When President Obama took office, though, he kept a campaign promise to return to condom-centered efforts. In late 2008, Congress stripped PEPFAR of its abstinence-only earmark. 

5. PEPFAR is estimated to have saved over 17 million lives. Since the program's inception:

• HIV testing services have been provided for nearly 95 million people.

• More than 270,000 new health care workers to deliver HIV and other health services have been trained.

• Critical care and support has been provided for more than 6.8 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers to mitigate the physical, emotional, and economic impact of HIV/AIDS.

• Lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for more than 14.6 million people, including for more than 700,000 children.

• More than 2.4 million babies of HIV-infected mothers to be born HIV-free.

By / Nov 30

As a public health professor, Christ follower, and public health practitioner, I am consistently forced to reflect upon the intersection of faith and protecting the needs of the population. One of the most pressing areas of intersection is the HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination that exists worldwide.

World AIDS Day is commemorated each year on December 1, since its inception in 1988. It is an international day that is intended to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic, which is caused by the HIV virus. World AIDS Day is also reserved as a time to grieve the loss of those who have lost their lives due to AIDS. Government and health officials, nonprofit organizations, and many individuals around the world observe the day, oftentimes with health education and promotion programs that are specifically directed at both prevention and control.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that, if untreated, leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Unlike other viruses that may infect an individual, the human body is unable to completely combat the HIV virus without treatment. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, specifically its T cells. Eventually, the virus can destroy so many of these cells that the body’s immune system becomes unable to fight off infection and disease. Due to a compromised immune system, infected persons are susceptible to life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers.     

HIV is only transmitted through specific activities and the transmission of certain bodily fluids. Although it is most commonly known as a sexually transmitted infection, it can also be transmitted through breast milk and blood. These bodily fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane, damaged tissue, or be directly injected into the bloodstream (needles or syringe) for person-to-person transmission to occur.  

The current state of the pandemic

Currently, 36.9 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, including 1.8 million children. Most of these children acquired the disease from their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. The vast majority of those living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries. In 2017 alone, 53 percent of those living with HIV were from eastern and southern Africa, 16 percent from western and central Africa, 5.2 percent from Asia and the Pacific, and 6 percent were from Europe and South America.

Despite a greater understanding in recent scientific advances related to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, as well as years of laborious efforts by the global health community, a vast number of individuals still do not have access to prevention, care, or treatment. There is still no cure for the disease. With that being said, antiretroviral drugs are able to control the virus so that individuals can lead healthy lives and reduce their risk of transmitting the disease to others.

The HIV epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the economic growth and development of global nations. Many of the countries that are most affected by the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic are also those that suffer from other diseases, food insecurity, and many other public health issues.

Despite these challenges to addressing the epidemic, there have been some successes and promising signs of progress. Due to new and innovative methods that have been implemented to target the epidemic, the number of HIV/AIDS related deaths has decreased over the years. Additionally, although still a pressing issue, the number of individuals receiving HIV treatment in underdeveloped nations has also increased.

Overall, despite the availability of an array of HIV-prevention tools and methodologies, there has not been a sufficient decrease in the rate of new infections, globally, and there is still much work that needs to be done.

HIV/AIDS, stigmatization, and our Christian responsibility

HIV/AIDS stigmatization certainly manifests itself differently across countries, communities, and religious groups. The fear surrounding the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s largely persists today. At that time, very little was known about HIV/AIDS transmission, which exacerbated fear of those who were infected due to the concern of contagion. This fear, coupled with the vast array of misinformation that persists to this day, are catalysts for a growing trepidation and exclusion of the HIV/AIDS population.   

Regardless of how you may perceive those who have been infected with HIV/AIDS, our first cause for concern is not the fight against the global burden of disease. As Christians, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to not be fearful or apprehensive of these individuals. As followers of Christ, we must not be selective of who we love well. It is imperative that we re-examine ourselves to ensure that we are consistently reflecting the hands and feet of Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2). We must not allow the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS to cause us to neglect those affected by this disease, regardless of how it may have been contracted. Compelled by God’s love, we have a glorious opportunity to embrace human dignity in the midst of a fallen world as we minister with grace and compassion.

Caring for this vulnerable population is not an endorsement of unbiblical sexual activity or the use of illicit substances; it’s a commandment of the gospel. As an individual who has had the incredible privilege of working with HIV/AIDS populations in underdeveloped countries, I would urge Christians to view opportunities to serve this population as a chance to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.   

By / Dec 1

World AIDS Day is held each year on December 1 as an opportunity to raise awareness about the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from AIDS.

Here are five facts you should know about HIV and AIDS:

1. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: Acquired means you can get infected with it; Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases; Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.

AIDS refers to the most advanced stages of HIV infection (human immunodeficiency virus), defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or related cancers. Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don't get sick for many years.

2. HIV can be transmitted through: unprotected sexual intercourse or oral sex with an infected person; transfusions of contaminated blood; the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other sharp instruments; or the transmission between a mother and her baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

3. Globally, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV in 2015, and 1.8 million of these were children (i.e., under the age of 15). The vast majority of people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries. An estimated 2.1 million people were newly infected with the virus in 2015. An estimated 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2015, down from two million in 2000.

4. An estimated 150,000 children became infected with HIV in 2015, down from 290,000 in 2010—a decline of nearly 50 percent.  Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Mother-to-child-transmission of HIV is almost entirely avoidable, though access to preventive interventions remains limited in many low- and middle-income countries. In 2015, Cuba was the first country declared by the World Health Organization as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In June 2016, Armenia, Belarus, and Thailand were also validated for eliminating mother-to-child HIV.

5. HIV is the result of multiple cross-species transmissions of simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) naturally infecting African chimpanzees. While no one knows how the cross-species transmission occurred, the origin of the AIDS pandemic has been traced to the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. An international team of scientists say a “perfect storm” of a roaring sex trade, rapid population growth, and unsterilized needles used in health clinics probably spread the virus. HIV spread in the Congo for almost sixty years before it recognized as a new disease in 1981.

By / Dec 1

World AIDS Day is held each year December 1 as an opportunity to raise awareness about the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from AIDS.

Here are five facts you should know about HIV and AIDS:

1. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: Acquired means you can get infected with it; Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body's system that fights diseases; Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.

AIDS refers to the most advanced stages of HIV infection (human immunodeficiency virus), defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or related cancers. Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don't get sick for many years. 

2. HIV can be transmitted through: unprotected sexual intercourse or oral sex with an infected person; transfusions of contaminated blood; the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other sharp instruments; or the transmission between a mother and her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. 

3. Globally, an estimated 35.0 million people were living with HIV in 2013, and 3.2 million of these were children. The vast majority of people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries. An estimated 2.1 million people were newly infected with the virus in 2013. An estimated 39 million people have died from AIDS-related causes so far, including 1.5 million in 2013. 

4. According to 2013 figures, an estimated 3.2 million children are living with HIV.  Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Over 240 000 children became newly infected with HIV in 2013. Mother-to-child-transmission of HIV is almost entirely avoidable, though access to preventive interventions remains limited in many low- and middle-income countries.

5. HIV is the result of multiple cross-species transmissions of simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) naturally infecting African chimpanzees. While no one knows how the cross-species transmission occurred, the origin of the AIDS pandemic has been traced to the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. An international team of scientists say a "perfect storm" of a roaring sex trade, rapid population growth, and unsterilized needles used in health clinics probably spread the virus.  HIV spread in the Congo for almost sixty years before it recognized as a new disease in 1981.

Other Articles in the 5 Facts Series:

Thanksgiving • Cooperative Program  •  Military Suicides • Gambling in America • Truett Cathy • Hunger in America • Suicide in America • Christian Persecution • Civil Rights Act of 1964 • Supreme Court’s contraceptive mandate decision • Fathers and Fathers Day • Euthanasia in Europe • Marriage in America • March for Life • Abortion in America • ‘War on Poverty’