UNAIDS reports new HIV infections down by 17% over 8 years

•November 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Eight-year trend shows new HIV infections down by 17%—most progress seen in sub-Saharan Africa

Geneva / Shanghai, 24 November 2009 – According to new data in the 2009 AIDS epidemic update, new HIV infections have been reduced by 17% over the past eight years. Since 2001, when the United Nations Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS was signed, the number of new infections in sub-Saharan Africa is approximately 15% lower, which is about 400,000 fewer infections in 2008. In East Asia new HIV infections declined by nearly 25% and in South and South East Asia by 10% in the same time period. In Eastern Europe, after a dramatic increase in new infections among injecting drug users, the epidemic has leveled off considerably. However, in some countries there are signs that new HIV infections are rising again.

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Universal Access: Prevention, Treatment, Care

•November 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The non-profit organization Avert has put out a short but very focused and thought-provoking video on the World AIDS Day 2009 theme: Universal Access. 

I love how this presentation deals with the idea of “universal access.”  That’s a very common phrase in AIDS advocacy circles, and is probably most often used with regard to treatment — you have universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment if everyone who needs antiretroviral therapy (ART) can get it.  But Avert follows UNAIDS in highlighting the need for universal access to prevention, treatment, and care

All three of these things are important.  The video makes the essential point that, without improved prevention and lower infection rates, the availability of treatment can’t keep up with the need.  I especially appreciate the emphasis on access to care.  “Care” can mean a lot of things, many or most of which are intangible.  Unfortunately, that can make it easy to overlook.  But support, respect, understanding, and love…all people living with HIV/AIDS (infected or affected) need these things too.

A good reminder.

ONE video

•November 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Short, catchy video from the ONE Campaign.  It’s geared especially for college students, but pretty much applicable to everyone.  The video stars a lot of very popular Hollywood types.  (I am just out of the loop enough to recognize only one or two of them…I suddenly feel old.)  You can find out more about it here.

Test your AIDS knowledge

•November 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Can you name the countries with the highest adult HIV/AIDS infection rates?

Just came across this game/exercise on the ridiculously addictive trivia game site, sporcle.com.  It’s a good test, and actually very challenging (I was kind of chagrined to see how many I missed).  Check it out.

Thoughts on (campus) advocacy, part 2

•November 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Here is a pretty slick video promoting World Vision‘s new (and curiously-punctuated) campus organization, ACT:S.    ACT:S is a successor to, and a sort of re-vision of, Acting on AIDS, a WV-driven AIDS advocacy network for Christian colleges. 

It’s also interesting to note that ACT:S is putting a lot of emphasis on “creative activism” and political advocacy.  While this may be an oversimplification, this seems like something of a shift from the initial strategy of Acting on AIDS, which focused very heavily on fundraising.  To me, this movement makes a lot of sense.  I’m sure this differs from school to school, but in my experience Acting on AIDS tended to stumble on the fact that most college students don’t have much money to spare. 

During my time at Wheaton College, I was heavily involved in our campus AIDS group, which started as a chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (a AIDS advocacy network composed maily of branches at secular universities), and called itself SGAC, but was technically a member of Acting on AIDS as well.  We often found ourselves trying to delicately chart our own way, attempting to avoid the pitfalls we saw in one or both groups.  I remember having a conversation with another member of the Wheaton group, and expressing our frustration with the fact that the Acting on AIDS leadership wanted us to focus on fundraising — or, as it seemed to us, to come up with all kinds of money that we just didn’t have. 

Our group had a lot of success with many of our initiatives, from political advocacy, to education, to service projects,  but fundraising was consistently difficult.  As my friend put it,  it just didn’t seem fair that we were supposed to be focusing on giving money when many of us were accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt just by being in college.  We had time, passion, and access to outstanding educational and institutional resources…it sometimes seemed like we were being asked for the one thing we didn’t have.  It just didn’t seem like a good use of resources at that stage in our lives. 

When engaging an issue, I think it’s extremely important to consider what your best contribution can be.  You have to consider what is feasible for you (as an individual or a group), and where you can shine.  You won’t be able to do everything that could or should be done.  You have to focus your efforts in a way that makes sense.  Your focus — your style of advocacy — might change as your life changes. 

Say you want to make a difference for a cause. One option is raising money for an organization that provides related services.  When you’re a college student who has to keep a nervous eye on a growing pile of student loans, fundraising might not be the most practical approach. But say that twenty years later you’ve got a well-paying job, lots of friends and connections who also make decent money, and a career that has taught you how to sell an idea.  Now you’re in a great position to jump into fundraising.  The same type of logic could work for all sorts of other approaches to advocacy and social involvement. 

All that is to say, I think World Vision might have hit on a strategy better suited to the college student demographic by moving some of its focus to political advocacy from fundraising.  It seems like this shift has been evolving for a while, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.  Hopefully this new group will excel in whatever they decide to do, and make a real difference for people dealing with poverty and injustice around the world, and bring God glory as they do so.

>> I began my reflections on the evolution of ACT:S here.

Thoughts on (campus) advocacy, part 1

•November 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a pretty slick video promoting World Vision‘s new (and curiously-punctuated) campus organization, ACT:S.    ACT:S is a successor to, and a sort of re-vision of, Acting on AIDS, a WV-driven AIDS advocacy network for Christian colleges. 

World Vision has made an interesting choice in shifting away from a more specific AIDS-oriented program to a more overarching focus on “poverty and injustice.”  In my opinion there’s a lot to be said on both sides of the question this change is addressing.  On the one hand, HIV/AIDS is just one relatively small part of — to put it somewhat crudely — what is wrong with the world.  We can and must care about all varieties of injustice, all causes of human suffering.  Further, AIDS is so connected, so mixed up with all sorts of other issues, it may counterproductive to artifically narrow one’s focus.

On the other hand, it’s hard to grapple with issues all at once, without a fairly well defined central focus.  You may want to be able to follow connections to related issues, but when is a connection so tenuous that it’s in your best interest to leave that issue to someone else?  After all, one person (or group) can only be really competent — in terms of knowledge, understanding, resources, etc. — in so many areas.

I think about these issues a lot in the context of this blog.  I don’t always know where I fall on the spectrum, but I try to avoid both poles (vague social-justicey-ness and mono-focus on HIV/AIDS).  I tend to use my interest in and knowledge of AIDS issues as a sort of central jumping-off point to look at global health and related issues.  Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying that I’m kind of stream-of-consciousness about the issues I address.  Then again, it’s a blog…stream-of-consciousness is pretty much the default mode!

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see how ACT:S addresses these questions.  Different people, groups, and organizations have to find their own balance and approach, and I don’t think there’s just one right answer.  In a way, I think it’s sort of inherent in personality types: some people tend to look more at the big picture, while some tend to “zoom in” more.  There are definitely advantages to both.

It’s also interesting to note that ACT:S is putting a lot of emphasis on “creative activism” and political advocacy.  While this may be an oversimplification, this seems like something of a shift from the initial strategy of Acting on AIDS, which focused very heavily on fundraising.  To me, this movement makes a lot of sense.  I’m sure this differs from school to school, but in my experience Acting on AIDS tended to stumble on the fact that most college students don’t have much money to spare. 

During my time at Wheaton College, I was heavily involved in our campus AIDS group, which was technically a member of both Acting on AIDS and the Student Global AIDS Campaign (a campus AIDS advocacy network composed maily of branches at secular universities, and tended to focus on a confrontational style of activism).  We often found ourselves trying to delicately chart our own way between the two groups and their different emphases, which sometimes seemed like extreme points on a spectrum.  I remember having a conversation with another member of the Wheaton group, and expressing our frustration with the fact that it seemed like Acting on AIDS leadership expected us to be able to come up with all kinds of money that neither we nor anyone we hung out with had.  As my friend put it,  it just didn’t seem fair that we were supposed to be focusing on giving money (rather than on other approaches like political advocacy, education initiatives, or service projects), when many of us were accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt just by being in college.  It just didn’t seem like a good use of our resources at that stage in our lives.

Anyway, all that is to say, I think that, by moving some emphasis away from fundraising and toward advocacy for their campus initiatives, World Vision might have hit on a strategy better suited to the college student demographic.  It seems like this shift has been evolving for a while, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.

>> I continued my reflections on the evolution of ACT:S here.

“First Person: Living with HIV”

•November 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8015716.stm

This is from a while back (April 2009) but I just watched it, and it’s definitely worth a look.  BBC World News America created this short video featuring prominent, long-time AIDS activist Eric Sawyer for its “First Person” series.  This is a very moving clip, in which Sawyer speaks emotionally about the havoc HIV has wrecked in his own life, and especially the friends and loved he has lost to the disease.  The pain in his voice is truly sobering.

I found the end of the video especially chilling.  Sawyer explains that he is alive only because he has the resources — money, health insurance — to get the newest and best anti-AIDS medications.  As he put it, “I can buy life.”  The point of course, is that not everyone who has HIV is so lucky.  As he says, that isn’t right.