There seemed to be a time when AIDS dominated news stories, charity appeals, and the majority of the reports that came out of Africa. This news perpetuated the sense of desperation and hopelessness associated with the disease, both in terms of its human affects and the hopes of finding a cure.
Its decreasing visibility in world news is due, I believe, to three different factors. There have been increasingly positive developments in the fight against AIDS, including the development of Highly Active Antiretroviral Treatment (HAART). HAART is greatly increasing the quality and length of life of people suffering from AIDS, as well as proving effective in preventing the spread of AIDS from mother to baby during pregnancy. This positivity has meant a reduction in news stories, partly due to the nature of media to predominantly report the negative, but also due to the explosion of African news stories emanating from North Africa, specifically in relation to the Arab Spring. Finally, news agencies are constantly aware that certain news stories can reach a “saturation point”, where too much exposure to an issue leads to audience disengagement.
The DREAM (Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition) Project was founded in 2002 in Guinea to help combat AIDS and Malnutrition with the aim of: trying to rid Afro-pessimism, reaffirming the right of all to treatment, combing prevention of AIDS with pharmacological treatment of the disease, and the using of the most up-to-date technological innovations and computerization in its fight. Since then it has been enjoying growing success in the fight against AIDS, due to both the provision of greater access to treatment and education. It has always been clear, theoretically, that these were the necessary factors needed to fight the disease, and DREAM have shown, through their resilience and organization, the positive affects of consistent application.
In a recent interview by Global Voices with the head of the DREAM programme, Paolo Germano talked about the various successes the organization have enjoyed. In most of the countries that DREAM work in the disease has stabilized and in a certain few, numbers of new cases have decreased. The biggest successes were seen in Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi with the percentage of people affected by the epidemic going from 15% to 11.5% in just a few years in Malawi. Indeed, in 2010 in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa, there 16% fewer cases of AIDS than in 2001. The percentages may seem quite small, but when one considers the numbers involved (around 20 million now infected in Sub-Saharan Africa), the success and improvements on a human level are incredible.
Of course, these improvement can in no way be attributed entirely to DREAM. Factors such as the natural cycle of the epidemic, greater awareness and education, increased involvement by governments in combatting the disease, and greater ease of access to HAART have all contributed. However, DREAM have been essential as a facilitator in the dissemination of those factors which are helping to combat the disease. Their education programme not only educates about the disease but works to combat the stigmatization of those who suffer from AIDS. Their 38 working DREAM centres provide medication and other essential provisions, such as the building of clean water pumps, to isolated and deprived areas. Moreover, they have placed a premium on combatting malnutrition, especially in children, sufferers and pregnant women, as a way to help combat AIDS. The unstable food supply and inability of sufferers and pregnant women to work lead to malnutrition and this is a key aggravator of the effects of HIV and AIDS. As of May 2013, 215,000 people have been assisted by DREAM, of which 36,600 are under 15 years old; 90,700 have received HAART, of which 10,000 are children; and 21,000 children have been born healthy as a result of DREAM’s vertical programme prevention.
DREAM cannot and is not combatting AIDS by itself. There are countless numbers of large and small, local and multinational, poor and rich organizations working to combat AIDS in various ways. DREAM are demonstrating, though, how important it is that both the biggest and smallest amongst us always keep striving and doing all we can, in whatever battles we choose, and that no true effort is ever too little or should ever be dismissed.
Maybe, at some point, the tide against AIDS can be truly turned.