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Journalists have crucial role as focus of AIDS funding shifts

Journalists have crucial role as focus of AIDS funding shifts

Stephen Abbott Pugh | February 18, 2016

The fight against HIV/AIDS is a decades-long global battle which claimed the lives of 34 million people by the end of 2015. Yet the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 54 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS are aware of their infection.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with around 25 million people estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in 2014. The region also accounts for nearly 70 percent of the world’s new HIV infections.

So what resources are available to help reporters explain the reality of what it’s like to live with HIV/AIDS in their country so they can better tell the story of this fight and raise awareness of the importance of prevention measures and testing?

The People Living with HIV Stigma Index is a project to better understand the problems and challenges that face those with the virus across the world. Since 2008, its staffers have interviewed more than 50,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in more than 50 countries across the developing and developed world -- with the staffers themselves often being locally trained people living with HIV/AIDS. These national stigma reports can help guide local reporters by giving them a better sense of the real difficulties facing people in their country.

Organizations like The Global Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) fund a huge amount of projects across the world seeking to tackle HIV/AIDS through a variety of approaches and initiatives. Their websites provide insights and reports into all those projects as well as datasets which the media can use to enhance their reporting. PEPFAR offers exportable data for all its country-level funding and results, while The Global Fund has an API providing access to its data in addition to offering this information as Excel or PDF downloads. Other organizations like the WHO, UNAIDS, global health websites and local NGOs and charities also often provide guides and data that can help dismiss misconceptions and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Later this month, I will be taking part in an HIV prevention reporting workshop focused on raising awareness about the benefits of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC). This workshop is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, and the International Center for Journalists has collected handouts and fact sheets and has also conducted a webinar for attendees which offered tips on how best to approach stories on this issue.

It is crucial that journalists gain a better understanding of how the fight against HIV/AIDS is unfolding in their country, especially as changes are taking place internationally in the focus and targets of this battle.

In 2014, UNAIDS launched its 90-90-90 target to “help end the AIDS epidemic.” By 2020, it wants 90 percent of all people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV to receive treatment and 90 percent of those being treated to have suppressed the virus. These are ambitious targets if only 54 percent of people knew their status in 2014. But without urgent action, UNAIDS estimates that 28 million more people may be infected with HIV by 2030.

Fears about a stagnation in spending on the fight against HIV/AIDS by large donor countries like the United States mean increased efforts to focus on specific high-risk populations. The head of PEPFAR has talked specifically of targeting young women in sub-Saharan Africa.

Journalists — especially those working in this target region — should undertake any efforts they can to better understand the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS and how money is being spent on preventing or treating the virus. Once they are armed with this information, they will be more prepared to counter rumors and equip their countrymen and women with factual information that can help them in this battle.

Main image CC-licensed courtesy of Pierre Holtz for UNICEF.

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