The 1980s AIDS epidemic has softened in our minds, however the risk is still real. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an incurable, fatal virus that compromises your body’s immune system. In the final stages of HIV, the virus renders the body helpless against illness and becomes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
The disease affects communities in every part of the world. Nearly 37 million people are currently living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. In the United States, about 50,000 people become infected with HIV each year, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and AIDS has already killed some 658,507 people in this country alone.
For nearly 30 years, nonprofit organizations have worked ceaselessly to spread awareness and get us closer to a cure. We’ve identified the five that have been the biggest game changers in 2015, working tirelessly to support education, prevention, and research that could help eliminate the virus for good.
AIDS Research Alliance
The AIDS Research Alliance (ARA) has been working for nearly 30 years to help people living with HIV and prevent its spread. Founded in Los Angeles in the face of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, Dr. Paul Rothman noticed that the traditional, slow pace of American drug development meant a huge loss of life. Under his leadership, doctors and activists formed a community-based initiative that has successfully conducted 150 studies, and this has facilitated the eventual development of about half of all existing HIV/AIDS treatments.
Aiming to create a vaccine to prevent spread, as well as a cure, they hope to lengthen and improve the quality of life for the 35 million people living with the disease and keep it from affecting future generations. Today, they are working on their most promising study yet: HIV reservoir eradication. The drug they’re developing, Prostratin, shows the virus hiding in blood cells and may enable the body’s own immune system to destroy it. They still need to bring the drug to clinical trials, but are hopeful that this is a step towards a cure.
San Francisco AIDS Foundation
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation was there with hope when the AIDS epidemic hit California. The organization enables and encourages city residents to learn their HIV status, know how to prevent infection, and seek support if they are HIV-positive. They are the leader in local access to prevention, knowledge, and care for the community and model for others.
Their programs emphasize three main goals: reduce new HIV infections in San Francisco by 50 percent; ensure all San Franciscans know their current HIV status; and ensure access to proper care for anyone who is HIV-positive. Among their various initiatives, they advocate for more than 700 people living with HIV/AIDS, run support groups for 1,500 people, provide 14,000 HIV tests and STI screenings a year, and help with substance abuse education, mental health counseling, and general preventive health education.
Their work is an example of how one organization is working to strengthen the community. Hopefully the model they’ve come up with can be replicated across cities worldwide.
International AIDS Society
On the global frontline of the AIDS epidemic you’ll find the International AIDS Society (IAS). They’re the world’s largest association of HIV professionals, and represent researchers, clinicians, policy makers, public health officials, and community practitioners from 180 countries.
AIS organizations bring together scientists and advocates to find and implement scientific advances. For example, the Industry Liaison Forum (ILF) facilitates discussions and collaborative partnerships to help bolster the international response to HIV, and the Towards an HIV Cure project helps support investment in HIV research efforts. The Collaborative Initiative for Paediatric HIV Education and Research (CIPHER) is the on-the-ground component for resource-strained areas by delivering clinical services to infants, children, and adolescents affected by HIV.
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) is reducing the avoidable infection of children with HIV/AIDS through research, advocacy, and prevention. Elizabeth Glaser contracted the virus in 1988 during a blood transfusion. Unaware of the infection or risks, she passed the virus to her two children (one through breast milk, and the other in the womb). Their family soon discovered that there was little knowledge, services, or solutions for children with HIV/AIDS. So they started EGPAF, which has become the leading voice in ending pediatric AIDS.
Six hundred children become infected with HIV each day, and 90 percent of these cases are passed from mother to child — something that could be prevented. This means nearly 219,000 children needlessly contract HIV every year. The EGPAF’s treatment programs support more than 8,000 sites in 15 countries around the world. They’ve helped 21 million women prevent transmitting the disease to their babies. They’ve also provided 1.4 million people, including 114,000 children, with antiretroviral treatment, a medication that slows the virus’s growth.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation
The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is on a mission to save more lives. They provide medical services to nearly 500,000 individuals in 36 countries, as well as the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the United States. They’ve innovated to not only come up with new courses of treatment and prevention but for advocacy and fundraising as well.
On a global scale they have big ambitions, hoping to identify and treat the roughly 19 million people who are infected with HIV but don’t know it. On a local level, meanwhile, AHF taps into each unique community, whether it’s communicating the facts over misinformation or consistently providing treatment and access to financial resources.
All of their operations are self-funded through AHF-created social enterprises. They raise money through AHF thrift stores, healthcare contracts, pharmacies, and strategic partnerships. The funds go to their programs worldwide, delivering services, supporting research, and enhancing lives.