For Millions of People, Hope Lies in the Balance this December
I received a text message from a friend today that he’s headed to the beach next week; an unexceptional piece of information, except for the fact that last August “going to the beach” was the furthest thing from his mind.
Back in August, the Philippines was confronted with another record-breaking typhoon season in the Philippines. Despite the incessant rain and floods that gripped the capital city, Metro Manila, my friend had finally mustered up the courage to get himself tested for HIV on the proviso that I accompany him to the clinic when the floodwaters subsided.
He said that his body was making it visibly clear that avoiding medical attention was no longer an option.
His decision came after weeks of SMS exchanges between us as I tried to demystify the testing and treatment process in Manila and answer questions about life with HIV, something I’m familiar with I know about since I was diagnosed HIV-positive 9 years ago.
As we were sitting in the consultation room of a small, community-run clinic, my friend’s suspicions of an HIV infection were confirmed after a 20-minute, rapid test. He was mentally prepared and seemed calmly resigned to the facts. However, it turned out that the HIV news was just the beginning.
The doctor said she had good reason to believe that tuberculosis (TB) was complicating my friend’s situation. I could see in my friend’s eyes that this news caught a raw nerve, as the prospect of starting a complicated regime amounting to 20 pills a day was explained.
The gravity of the situation was then shared the day after when the same doctor contacted me and recommended that I started TB preventative treatment.
For people living with HIV, getting TB can be life threatening. TB is commonly spread by inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of a person infected with the bacteria. The World Health Organization reported that TB was the cause of death for one in four cases of all deaths of people living with HIV in 2012.
I had my first-ever TB screening last year, but chose to defer preventive treatment. Now, with no reason to delay, I started a six-month course of TB treatment on top of my daily dose of HIV antiretroviral medication, albeit a little apprehensive about having to deal with the side effects. Thankfully there were none.
Our TB medication and the needs of those affected by TB in low and middle-
income countries in 2014 and 2015 will amount to US$ 7-8 billion per year. Since 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has played a significant role in ensuring that more people in the global south get access to lifesaving medicine. Now, modern science and the scale of the global response have brought us to a critical moment in the epidemic of the three diseases. Yet, there is still a long journey ahead of us.
We have a long journey ahead to ensure that everyone has access to health – a universal human right. Sadly, HIV, TB and Malaria are extremely efficient in highlighting the injustices in our world. Public health data overwhelmingly shows that the people who carry the heaviest burden of the three diseases are also the most marginalized: women, children, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, gay men and other men who have sex with men, prisoners and migrant workers. The Global Fund is a lifeline for these communities who would otherwise be abandoned.
So what action can we take?
We can move forward by continuing to pressure governments worldwide to invest more in the long-term health of their own citizens and residents, without prejudice or discrimination.
And we have yet to hear if the governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, European Union, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa will join the U.K and U.S. by ensuring that the Global Fund is fully replenished by the end of 2013.
So when world leaders meet on December 3, let’s make sure these governments don’t lose their political will to eradicate the three diseases.
As for my friend, after two months of aggressive medical treatment, his call, telling me he was “going to the beach” was the most optimistic thing I’d heard from him in ages. He is moving forward, and for that I’m thankful.
We must stay committed to spreading hope among the millions living with or affected by HIV, TB or Malaria by saving lives, and not rest until all people have access to health, without exception.