music to your ears: this year with hiv/aids

This year, 2007, there is some good news about the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The percentage of people living with AIDS has leveled off and the number of new cases has fallen. This is attributed to the prevention programs. However, risk remains high in sub-Saharan Africa. Eight sub-Saharan African countries represent one-third of all new cases and total deaths around the globe. This year there are still 33.2 million people living with AIDS, 2.5 million newly infected, and 2.1 million deaths. (Read the 2007 AIDS epidemic update) As with all good reports, “much good has been done, but more is needed.” Events are happening all across the continent with dedication and promises. The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is leadership and “Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise!” While there is a lot of talk (read the statements) already this year about what will be done about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

It is not very often that the news of HIV/AIDS is music to the ears, but this may be one case. In Uganda, where HIV/AIDS was first discovered in the continent in 1981, there is a rising musical movement to increase education and promote prevention. Beginning to make her mark as a rising vocalist in the Ugandan pop music scene, Sylvia Nakibuule chose to go on television to declare her status as HIV positive. Sylvia gained became well known through her work with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), which regularly puts on performances to educate people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent spreading the disease. Sylvia tells the youth, “I never wanted this to happen to me, so I don’t want it to happen to you. The message I want to give the youth is let us do our best to have a virus-free young generation. Be careful in the way you handle yourself.”

In Malawi, the BBC has been following the village of Njoho and their responses to the AIDS epidemic. Six months earlier one of the village elders had little hope for the people in the village to change their behavior to combat the effects. Now there is only hope. The stigma has left the village; Orphaned children are given help, there are monthly talks and support groups for people dealing with the burden of disease, and there are training programs on education and prevention. The village is fighting back. However, the recent efforts have been hindered by a lack of adequate medical facilities. The local hospital is not equipped to give HIV testing or to distribute anti-retrovirals. Patients with AIDS-related disease are instead sent to a district hospital 10 km away and most villagers cannot afford the bus fare. Yet again the lack of basic healthcare infrastructure adds another complication to an issue already too complex. But there is always hope. Njoho will be starting a clinic next year for voluntary counseling and testing, mother to child transmission prevention, and will provide bus fare for those who need anti-retrovirals.

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