On December 1 the international community will mark World AIDS Day. This year, with many countries still reeling from the recent economic recession, the fight against AIDS takes on a new urgency. (link to larger image)
The massive attention the world gave to dealing with the crisis of HIV and AIDS over the past decade has really made a difference in countries where the problem is most prevalent. “For a period of time we really felt that we were winning the battle,” says Zaida Bastos, “because almost 4 million people were put on ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) in the least developed countries.”
People taking the drugs were a lot less sick than they had been. And instead of leaving children for elderly grandparents to raise, the ARVs “gave hope to parents to be able to raise their own children.”
Now all that success is in danger, says Bastos, The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s Africa Program Coordinator. “The economic downturn has affected (the fight against) AIDS.” Last March the Global Fund created specifically to address the problem reported a gap of $4 billion. The fund is even telling countries to scale down their AIDS work because it doesn’t have the resources to meet the need.
That lack of funding is making an impact on countries’ abilities to provide life-saving drugs to the people.
“And it’s worrisome,” says Bastos. “There’s a need for governments to continue to invest in drugs. There’s a need for us to say â€˜the crisis is not over.’ We need to keep doing what we have been doing.”
The governments of Swaziland, Botswana and Tanzania have already slashed their budgets for HIV and AIDS. “This will have a big impact.”
Faithful use of ARVs, which are supplied free by the governments in many African countries, has resulted in a substantial decline in AIDS-related deaths in some countries. “Adult mortality is down in Botswana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda and South Africa,” says Bastos. In South Africa, there’s a 54 percent reduction of mortality in children. And a Ugandan study shows that among children with AIDS who were put on ARVs there was almost a 90 percent decline in deaths.
The AIDS campaign begun by PWRDF several years ago has ended; the funds have been spent. “But we continue to fund very specific programs,” Bastos reports, including a clinic for children with AIDS in South Africa and a program in Mozambique to provide accompaniment to women on ARVs. Without encouragement and accompaniment, some people will not continue to take the drugs.
With the economic downturn, food scarcity is a problem, especially in poorer countries, making it imperative that a commitment to ARVs is kept. In one PWRDF-funded program, women are going door to door to tell those with AIDS that even though they might have to reduce the number of meals they eat each day, “they can’t drop the medication.” If they stop taking their ARVs, their bodies might develop a resistance once they resume again.
Money from the PWRDF AIDS campaign helped establish testing centres in Tanzania and Burundi, and has funded health centres in Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya, as well as advocacy and education. The testing centres were built with the understanding that local government would take over the work and financing once PWRDF funding was finished. Two PWRDF partners in Mozambique and two in South Africa also benefit from the funding.
Canadians can still designate donations to PWRDF for AIDS, says Bastos. “The campaign ended but the work has not ended.”