It’s been almost 60 years since the first recorded case of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was brought to light.
In this time, we’ve learned many things about the virus and the condition, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), that follows it.[hr gap=””]
HIV is a virus that compromises the immune system by destroying T cells and using them to replicate and allowing opportunistic infections to take root and kill. The progression of the virus depends on the individual as some rapidly descend into AIDS while some live with HIV for decades before developing AIDS. We’ve learned that it is indiscriminate, affecting all areas and all peoples of the world regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
We’ve also learned the methods of transmission. Sex with an infected person, sharing needles, and mother to infant blood sharing during pregnancy can transmit the virus but causal contact such as hugging, sharing a toilet, and shaking hands cannot. Furthermore, we now know that there are anti-viral medications that will slow the progression of HIV and prolong an individual’s life. Despite these advancements, there is still much work to be done.
Keep a Child Alive is an organization dedicated to the work that needs to be done. KCA was founded in 2003 by activist Leigh Blake and singer Alicia Keys intended to increase the accessibility of HIV medications to those in Africa. KCA has the mission of ending AIDS for children and their families and reducing the overall effects of HIV on individual’s lives. KCA uses an approach that treats the entire person and not just the disease. This includes access to proper nutrition and clean water. The organization mobilizes the community and encourages communities to have a stake in their own community change. KCA also fights stigma attached to HIV and AIDS and uses people living with HIV to inform their continued prevention efforts. Additionally, KCA shares their successful model with other health care organizations to increase prevention efforts and increase awareness.
According to the organization, there are 35 million people living with HIV today and new infections still average in the millions yearly. About 2 out of 5 of those people cannot access the treatment necessary to reduce the impacts of the virus. A new infection is recorded in a child every two minutes with 3 of 4 of these cases not receiving the needed care. Without this care, survival to their second birthday is severely lowered. HIV is the leading cause of death in teenagers after auto vehicle accidents and the number one cause of death in women of reproductive age with 1,000 new women being infected every day. Sub-Saharan African bears the burden of the virus with 70% of the HIV worldwide presenting here.
KCA believes that these statistics can be drastically reduced through a three-pronged approach:
No New Infections
An HIV person that consistently takes their medication is up to 96% less likely to pass it on to others. Regular testing reduces the amount of new infections as those who are infected could receive treatment sooner.
No Barriers to Treatment
Those who are poor, women, and less educated are more likely to contract HIV. These factors also increase the likelihood that these individuals will not be able to obtain treatment. Increasing access to treatment reduces the worst side effects of HIV.
Readily available sources of information have decreased the amount of stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, however these is still a significant amount of stigma attached to the conditions, especially in certain populations. Those affected individuals who are already vulnerable due to their state may feel isolated and ashamed and may be less likely to seek treatment.
Programming and Taking Action
KCA currently has 7 programs that span Africa and India. Each program intends to reduce the social, mental, and physiological impacts of HIV/AIDS through complimentary testing, provision of HIV care, counseling, support for those children orphaned because of HIV and even nutritional services. One of their most successful programs is Alive Medical Services in Kampala, Uganda. In 2014, this program treated 11,500 clients, tested 6,000 from the area, and gave out 12,000 food packages.
Annually, KCA hosts the Black Ball event, a night of music and motivational speaking intended to increase awareness, mobilize and harness the potential of young people living with HIV, and raise funds to continue the work done by their programs abroad. 2014’s Black Ball was hosted by Alicia Keys with Phindile Sithole-Spong was the guest speaker. Performances of the night included Alicia Keys, NAS, David Byrne, and Sean “Puffy” Combs. The evening raised $2.4 million bringing the complete total earned from Black Ball events to $24.9 million. This year’s Black Ball will be held November 5 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City and ticket information can be found here.
KCA encourages fundraisers that can be used to generate awareness and funds. These fundraisers can be held as actual events or online events. KCA actually gives the planner free rein on the type of event, location, and activities, but does offer assistance if needed. Outright donations directly to KCA are also accepted and appreciated. You can also connect with the organization through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and spread awareness with the #keepachildalive hashtag.
Keep a Child Alive uses multiple avenues to prevent HIV, reduce the stigma attached to HIV, and increase the quality of life in those living with HIV. Though their goal is lofty, KCA has made major strides and has garnered increasing support and reach over the past 13 years. Although there is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, advancements in treatment and prevention are still being made. If KCA continues on this path, it seems that they will indeed, contribute to the end of AIDS.