Good Health & well-Being: Brazil Is Giving Away Free Preventative #HIV Pills to 50,000 People in the Next 5 Years

The pills retail for over $1,600 in the United States.

Sometimes the world’s biggest problems are solved through the world’s tiniest tools.

In this case, a small blue pill that can be held between your index finger and your thumb could reduce the number of people who fall victim to one of the world’s most prevalent communicable diseases: HIV/AIDS.

And in Brazil, the government is embarking on an ambitious campaign to bring this pill, called Truvada, to more than 50,000 people over the next five years at no cost, according to a press release from the World Health Organization (WHO).

On Dec. 1, in coordination with World AIDS Day, Brazil’s Ministry of Health announced its plan to bring an HIV prevention program called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to 9,000 people at 35 clinics in 22 cities in the next year. This preventive program includes a daily dose of Truvada, and will eventually scale up to 54,000 people in the first five years.

The treatment program will focus on men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, and sex workers, according to the WHO.

“PrEP will help to keep Brazil and our region in line with the world’s most advanced global responses to HIV – and we feel confident that it will have a positive impact on reducing new infections,” Dr Adele Benzaken, Director of the Department of STI, HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis within Brazil’s Ministry of Health, said in a statement.

The New York Times reports that Brazil is “among the first in the developing world” to take part in this program. It comes at an important time for the rapidly-developing country, which has seen a large increase in the prevalence of the disease. 

The WHO estimates that the total number of Brazilians of all ages living with HIV/AIDS is around 830,000. But according to UN AIDS, the number of Brazilians who suffer from the disease tripled between 2006 and 2015, and more than 14,000 people died from the disease in 2016.

As a preventative treatment measure, PrEP has been shown to be 92% to 99% effective at preventing AIDS acquisition among men who have sex with men.

Rolling out the program will cost the country an estimated $2.7 million in the first year for 3.6 million pills, but is expected to save $20 million per year in HIV treatment costs.

Brazil’s Health Ministry is working with an American pharmaceutical company called Gilead Sciences to obtain the pills for 75 cents a dose, according to the New York Times. Within the United States the average monthly cost of treatment runs at $1,605.96.

Worldwide, the large majority of 36.7 million people who suffer from the disease are in Sub-Saharan Africa. But Brazil’s initiative could set a precedent for preventing future transmission of HIV/AIDS around the world.

“This is a large-scale operation, and Brazil could become an example to all of Latin America that we need to see an integrated approach,” Georgiana Braga-Orillard, the director of U.N.AIDS Brazil, told The Times

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Women & Girls: Malawi’s Abandoned Child Brides Are Turning to Sex Work as Their ‘Only Option’ #SDGs #ChildSex #SexWorkers

Young girls are being pushed into prostitution as a growing number of early marriages break down.

LUCHENZA, Malawi, Nov 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

When Memory Chitsulo was still in school in Malawi she married a man a decade older. But her husband soon left for South Africa, abandoning her with a baby. Desperate for money, the teenager turned to sex work.

Charities in the southern African country say child brides are increasingly being pushed into prostitution as growing numbers of early marriages break down.

“My parents died in a bus accident when I was 14. I got married since no one could take care of me. But he immediately left for South Africa as he couldn’t find work here,” said Chitsulo.

“He stopped calling after two years. It’s been 10 years now,” added the mother-of-two, now 25, who works from a brothel in Luchenza in southern Malawi.

Although child marriage is illegal, nearly half of girls in Malawi are wed before their eighteenth birthday and 9 percent before they turn 15, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

But charities say many child marriages have collapsed as poverty and unemployment drive tens of thousands of young Malawian men to seek work in South Africa.

“Many girls don’t survive early marriages, either because they face abuse and violence by their older partners, or because they are abandoned by men who go to South Africa,” said Forbes Msiska, executive director of Badilika, a charity supporting vulnerable girls with vocational training.

“I’ve talked to some young women who were left by their husbands who went to South Africa, but they don’t receive any financial support from their men. They said they ended up prostituting in order to survive and support their children.”

Maxwell Matewele, executive director of the charity Eye of the Child, said there had been a visible increase in the number of children forced into prostitution.

He said most girls were aged 14 to 18 years, but that he had come across some as young as nine.

Matewele called for the government to do more to address the root causes of child prostitution and for tougher legislation.

The government said it was aware of an increase in the number of young sex workers in the country, but could not say whether the breakdown in child marriages was a factor.

RURAL BROTHEL

A few years ago it was highly unusual to see sex workers outside Malawi’s cities, but they are increasingly pitching up in rural settlements as competition in urban areas drives them to find new clients.

Many work from drinking joints which have proliferated across Malawi.

In Namisasi, a quiet and unremarkable trading settlement in southern Malawi, villagers were astonished last year when eight sex workers arrived with their babies and set up business.

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Joyce Masamba, a 27-year-old mother-of-three, works out of a pub seeing up to three clients a day – mostly local businessmen. She earns about 1,000 Malawi Kwacha ($1.40) a client.

“I was forced out of school to marry when I was 15,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation outside the noisy bar where she works.

“I gave birth the same year but the man, who was 10 years older, started going out with other women. When I confronted him, he left me and the baby. Sex work was the only option I had to care for the baby and myself.”

Masamba now has three young children who live with her in a room at the bar provided by the owner. She hopes to give them the chances she hasn’t had, but money is tight.

“I can’t even fully feed and clothe my children,” she said. “Goodness knows how I’ll support them when they reach secondary school and need things like school fees.”

ECONOMIC THREAT

Experts say early marriage not only destroys a girl’s future but also perpetuates intergenerational poverty – children of parents with no education or skills are unlikely to break out of the poverty trap.

Earlier this year, Malawi’s minister of gender, Jean Kalilani, described child marriage as “a huge threat” to the country’s economic and social development.

She said factors exacerbating the high child marriage rate included poverty, low literacy levels among parents, a lack of female role models, peer pressure and harmful cultural practices that expose children to sex early in life.

In 2014, Malawi launched a mass media campaign on ending child marriages called “Lekeni” (Stop) aimed at changing mind-sets and encouraging girls to stay in school.

Malawi outlawed child marriage in 2015 and amended its constitution to ban marriage under 18 earlier this year.

The government says the law and other initiatives are already having an impact, but charities say it will take a lot more to end a deeply entrenched practice.

“All my colleagues here and me were married off and had children before the age of 18,” said Masamba, referring to the other women who work at the bar.

“When I look back I don’t think I should have been married off so young, but that’s what everybody was doing. It’s embedded in our culture.”

(Editing by Emma Batha; credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change.)