Facing AIDS around the world

By Kaia Erickson-Pearson

In 1988, health officials gathered at the World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention hatched the concept of a World AIDS Day annually observed Dec. 1. The theme of the first World AIDS Day, communication, was a modest way to address an epidemic that had already killed thousands. But the choice of communication underscores the importance of spreading awareness as a crucial strategy in the global fight against the epidemic. Although the devastation of HIV/AIDS is unquestionable, today it seems that the direction is changing. New statistics from the WHO indicate that HIV prevalence has leveled off. New infections continue to drop every year, along with AIDS-related deaths. Current prevention and treatment programs are having an effect, yet more must be done.

Macalester FACE AIDS is committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, by raising awareness of the pandemic and working with community organizations in Africa to prevent the spread of the virus there. We focus our work on the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, and maintain a direct relationship with two effective community-based programs in the region. We support these organizations because we believe that community-based treatment and development is the most effective way to address both the biology and the sociology of the pandemic. While many governments and NGOs have pledged immense sums of money for top-down HIV/AIDS programs, FACE AIDS’ partner organizations are dedicated to a more community-based approach.

FACE AIDS supports Partners in Health, founded by doctor-anthropologist Paul Farmer, which operates clinics in the poorest and most disease-ridden areas of the world and insures that all individuals receive high-quality medical care, regardless of income or social status. In addition to treating disease, the organization works with communities to develop successful primary health care systems and schools, and to improve access to food, water, sanitation, and economic opportunities. Partners in Health continues to work in new communities around the world, most recently in rural Rwanda.

FACE AIDS has also created and partnered with community support groups for HIV-affected communities in Zambia. These groups provide emotional and financial support for those affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as to reduce the stigma associated with the virus. FACE AIDS supports these groups by paying their members to make beaded pins, which FACE AIDS groups then sell domestically. Each pin is sold for $5, which is then matched by an additional $15 from sponsors, and the money returns to the Zambian communities, and to Partners in Health’s program in Rwanda.

Because the AIDS epidemic is so deeply rooted in poverty and social injustice, integrated health and development programs are especially effective at preventing HIV and creating healthy communities. And just as it is the community development approach in HIV/AIDS-affected areas that is most effective in treating the pandemic, it is passionate involvement of communities around the world that will turn the pandemic around. We cannot wait for governments to negotiate aid packages to these areas, nor can we sit and watch as entire regions crumble under the social and economic devastation created by HIV/AIDS. Our commitment to this fight is crucial. Organizations like FACE AIDS are working to alleviate the situation, but more needs to be done. Too many lives have been lost already.

Although it is easy to distance ourselves from the devastation and tragedy of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, we must remember that we are not merely students at Macalester College, but global citizens. World AIDS Day is an opportunity for us to recognize our responsibilities as global citizens and join in the global fight against pandemic AIDS.

Kaia Erickson-Pearson ’10 can be contacted at [email protected]