The 35 million individuals around the world who have died from an AIDS-related illness remind us that the pandemic is one of the worst the world has ever seen. The 36.9 million individuals living with HIV today call attention to the fact that this deadly disease has not gone away. (1) World AIDS Day, and the ubiquitous red ribbons associated with it, helps us with that grim reminder, too.
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The news is not all grim, though. The development of antiretroviral treatment means that HIV can be managed in a way not possible in the 1980s when the disease first appeared. At that time the average life expectancy for a person diagnosed with AIDS was about one year. (7) Now, by slowing down the virus, antiretroviral treatment enables HIV-infected individuals to live longer, healthier lives. It also reduces the risk of transmission.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Antiretroviral therapies have transformed HIV infection from an almost uniformly fatal infection into a manageable chronic condition.” (7)
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With this life-saving treatment in place, much focus has been placed on prevention so that one day treatment will not be necessary. UNAIDS leads in solving the problems that still exist in treating the global health threat. Their campaign “Start Free Stay Free” focuses on creating an “AIDS-free generation.” (2) The “Start Free” portion of the effort includes preventing new infection among women of childbearing age through primary care, providing prenatal care, and testing and diagnosing infants early. If an infected woman is treated during pregnancy, delivery and breast-feeding, the risk of the virus being passed from mother to child remarkably reduces to 5 percent or less. Prevention is vital, but so too is early diagnosis. The peak mortality for infants with the HIV virus is six weeks to four months. However, only half of the infants exposed to HIV globally are tested before eight weeks of age. (2)
The ”Stay Free” portion of the UNAIDS campaign aims to increase access to educational information on sexual and reproductive health as these infants grow into adolescents and young adults. It also encourages young people to stay in school and gain skills in order to gain economic independence. In 2019, adolescence is the only age group in which AIDS-related deaths are increasing. (2)
Tanzania helps illustrate the HIV/AIDS story. The population is young with half of the population between the ages of 10 and 24. One of the barriers to effectively treating diseases such as HIV/AIDS is the low physician-patient ratio, one of the lowest in the world with .031 doctors per 1,000 people. Other barriers include gender inequality, high rates of gender-based violence, stigma, and a lack of knowledge within the populace about the virus. (4)
Because child marriages and young pregnancies are common, a disproportionate number of girls fail to receive a full education. According to Human Rights Watch, only 60% of adolescents in Tanzania can access a lower secondary education. Of these teens, only one-third of girls who enter secondary school graduate. (6)
It follows that girls and women are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS with a prevalence rate at 5.8 percent for women and 3.6 percent for men. Females tend to become infected earlier because they marry earlier and often have older partners. In Tanzania, a country in which 27% of girls are pregnant or have had a child before the age of 19, nearly one-fifth of new HIV infections are a result of mother-to-child transmission. A mere 30 percent of infants exposed to HIV are given early infant testing and diagnosis. (4)
One of the keys to reducing the prevalence rate, particularly in females, is education. Educated women are more likely to advocate for themselves and for better services including health care. Educated women generally have fewer, healthier and better-educated children. In sub-Saharan Africa, universal secondary education would cause child marriages to fall by as much as 64%. (8)
Brighter Tanzania Foundation and Saving Grace School contribute to the effort of providing a full, quality, and equitable education to all children in Tanzania. By providing a quality pre-primary program to impoverished children in Arusha, the school is building a foundation in which these children can successfully continue their education and eventually graduate from secondary school. In doing so, the school not only builds a solid economic base but makes a critical contribution in the battle to eradicate HIV/AIDS.
It is also important to note the devastating impact that the loss of one or both parents due to AIDS has on a family, including the education of the children. Studies have shown that HIV/AIDS has a direct and negative impact on the educational outcomes of children. This impact includes enrollment and attendance, behavior, achievement, and completion. (5)
Saving Grace School serves impoverished children in Arusha, Tanzania.
Children whose families have been affected by HIV/AIDS are among the most vulnerable in Tanzania. These are the families that Saving Grace School serves. Through strengthening educational services, Brighter Tanzania Foundation joins in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS once and for all.