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Proposal - AIDS awareness trip to South Africa


 

No single word invokes as much fear, revulsion, and utter despair as AIDS. Despite increased awareness of this disease, terror prevails, as AIDS rewrites medical history and becomes the deadliest scourge in human history. Since the first cases of AIDS were reported in 1981, up to 50 million have been infected globally, approximately 22 million have succumbed to the disease and nearly 15,000 new cases of infection are diagnosed daily. Such statistics tell their own sordid tale about the ruthlessness and devastation of this disease. 

In the US however, AIDS cases are said to be dropping and new infections levelling off. AIDS mortality rates are also dropping. However, the story in the developing world is very alarming. In our own country the situation is highly disconcerting, with about 2.4 million people infected with HIV, which amounts to roughly 0.9% of the adult population. What these figures tell us is that not enough is being done to prevent AIDS infections in India, especially at the grass root levels. With a definite AIDS cure still in the research stages, increased AIDS awareness, counselling and alternative therapy treatments seem to offer the only succour. These areas of intervention are under-explored in the subcontinent. My aim is to examine how we can improve the efficacy of our AIDS-prevention and awareness programmes, by getting a feel of how similar programmes operate at the international level, especially in South Africa, which currently hosts the world’s largest HIV-positive population (5.5 million people).  

In 2003, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was launched to combat global HIV/AIDS – the largest commitment by any nation in history to combat a single disease. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. Government has supported life-saving treatment for more than 10.1 million people af¬fected by HIV/AIDS worldwide, including more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children. The program has further supported HIV counseling and testing for nearly 57 million people, reached an estimated 58.3 million people through community outreach programs to prevent sexual trans¬mission using the ABC approach, and supported prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmis¬sion during nearly 16 million pregnancies and antiretrovi¬ral prophylaxis for approximately 1.2 million pregnant women found to be HIV-positive, allowing more than 240,000 in¬fants to be born HIV-free. What is of  the greatest interest to me is that during the fiscal year 2008, in its focus countries, PEPFAR provided ap¬proximately $712 million to support prevention activities, an investment which represents 22 percent of focus country program funding. I think that this is reflective of the great importance given to AIDS-prevention attempts, one of the only foreseeable solutions to this global problem.

Since US-AID is directly responsible for the administration of the PEPFAR program, I have spent the last few months networking with US-AID authorities and discussing the viability of working with PEPFAR and/or its affiliated organizations in South Africa during the summer of 2009. My proposal was met with enthusiasm, and last month I received confirmation that I would be given an opportunity to work with them. Since US-AID only sponsors internships for American citizens, in order to participate in this program, I would be required to meet all my expenses. This includes flights, internal travel, and room/board, which will amount to a lot. Hence my proposal to Life Unlimited

In the meantime, I have also partnered with AIESEC, an international student’s organization which facilitates international student exchanges. I have volunteered to work with their African AIDS awareness initiative called the ASK (Answers, Solutions and Knowledge) program in South Africa, from April to June 2009. This program operates in public and private schools, where a 6-member team from the ASK program educates children and teens about the disease, and more importantly, spreads awareness about its prevention, using the ASK module.  Through this I hope to garner experience of AIDS awareness programs aimed specifically at the youth, something which I think will be particularly relevant in the Indian context, since we have the world’s fastest growing young population, and its third largest HIV infected population. 

My aim is to work with AIESEC on the ASK program, and also take up a part-time internship with US-AID in South Africa during my eight weeks in the country. Once I reach South Africa, AIESEC will arrange a home stay for me, cover local travel expenses and food. AIESEC’s ‘development internships’ (the type I have applied for) do not provide stipends but assist with arrangements that cover basic expenses (room/board and internal travel) in the host country. Thus, the remaining expenses that will have to be met are the flight costs, medical insurance and visa charges, which will amount to approximately one lakh rupees. My parents have generously agreed to cover half the expenses if I can manage to cover the other half. Being a student, this will mean either taking up part-time employment, a student loan, or securing a grant from Life Unlimited.

Now, I’d like to talk about how all this fits into my dream! Through my dual internships in South Africa, I hope to acquire as much knowledge as I can about both student initiatives and large-scale international efforts to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS. With this information, I hope to achieve two things: firstly, to do a comparative study of such efforts in India, collaborating with both government and non-governmental organizations working in this area, and secondly to explore the feasibility and scope of student initiatives in this domain. I think that AIDS prevention activities are not as effective as they could be, indeed as they ought to be. The scope of my study will be to identify the shortcomings of our AIDS prevention efforts, and how we can imbibe the qualities of international efforts that are firmly rooted in a commitment to results.

We’ve repeatedly heard it said that “prevention is better than cure.” With the current AIDS scenario, prevention, in the absence of a cure, is the only cure. I think it is imperative that we wake up to this reality and through partnerships with governmental, non-governmental , faith-based and community-based organizations as well as the private sector, contribute towards the building of sustainable preventive systems and thereby empower individuals, communities, and nations to battle HIV/AIDS. This is my dream – thank you for taking the time to let me share it with you!