SEATTLE, Washington — The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has plagued countries across the globe for many decades. If left untreated, HIV can develop into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and can leave those infected with a severely compromised immune system. In 1987, the first cases of HIV in Côte d’Ivoire became apparent. Since then, there have been numerous efforts from multiple organizations to help end the transmission of the virus and bring awareness to its severity. There are several facts to be known about HIV in Côte d’Ivoire.
1. HIV/AIDS is a Leading Cause of Death in Côte d’Ivoire
Of the West African countries, Côte d’Ivoire has the highest prevalence of HIV, reaching a rate of 2.6% in 2018, among individuals between 15 and 49 years of age. In 2018, around 460,000 individuals had HIV in Côte d’Ivoire.
Social stigmas surrounding HIV make it hard for many men and women to muster the courage to get tested. Because of this shame, citizens do not always seek treatment and continue to infect new sexual partners. Not only is it important to make citizens aware of the positive consequences a positive diagnosis has, but it is crucial that HIV be de-stigmatized and that citizens receive support instead of condemnation.
In 2007, HIV in Côte d’Ivoire was the leading cause of death for all ages. However, new data from 2017 depicts HIV as the second leading cause of death after neonatal disorders.
One of the major cities in Côte d’Ivoire, Abidjan, has a prevalence rate of 3.4%, which is strikingly higher than the national average. This comes from a higher prominence of drug use in the area.
2. HIV/AIDS Affects Women More Than Men
The epidemic of HIV in Côte d’Ivoire disproportionately affects females, with more than 60% of the adults living with HIV being women. Because Côte d’Ivoire is rebuilding after a war-torn climate, many families have little access to proper healthcare. This means that pregnant women have a higher chance of passing HIV to their babies unknowingly because they were not tested before giving birth.
However, in 2018, 90% of pregnant women in Côte d’Ivoire had access to treatment and more than 3,000 infections among newborns were prevented.
Unfortunately, the stigma that comes with HIV affects decisions to get tested. Many Ivorian men avoid testing because they are afraid a positive diagnosis will ruin their social status and ability to find sexual partners. Women, on the other hand, decline testing because they face a harsher condemnation than their male counterparts. Ivorian women are economically and socially vulnerable and having a positive test result could mean that their partners will leave and they will have no family or money.
Women who are pregnant also face their own challenges. Doctors advise that HIV infected pregnant women use formula instead of breastfeeding. This can pose a problem for families who cannot afford formula or lack access to clean water. This can also ruin the communal reputation of the woman when other women see her using formula instead of breastfeeding.
It is important for both men and women to feel comfortable about getting tested for HIV. Changes to the media’s portrayal of HIV are imperative to rewriting decades of stigma surrounding the virus. Additionally, showing positive stories of those with HIV continuing to live their lives as well as increased awareness of accessibility to treatment, are two small steps in the right direction for the citizens of Côte d’Ivoire.
3. Few Recognized HIV/AIDS Treatments Exist
Although no cure exists, there is a well-known therapy for slowing it down. The treatment for HIV is a multi-drug regime known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART slows the spread and severity of HIV after diagnosis. While ART does not kill the virus or cure the disease, it inhibits the virus from creating DNA in the fourth phase of cell formation and thus slows the spread of HIV in the body. Strategies for HIV prevention include using condoms, using new needles and testing for both men and women, especially pregnant women.
4. Funding and Medical Assistance Helps Côte d’Ivoire
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is one of the leading organizations helping Côte d’Ivoire today. The organization spends roughly $50 million per year to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Côte d’Ivoire through medicines, trained professionals and testing.
One notable effort of PEPFAR is the HIV Situation Room, which is an online tool that accumulates community and country-wide data to better inform health professionals and individual citizens. The software was launched in March 2018 and comes as a response to UNAIDS 90-90-90 initiative. The hope is that by the end of 2020, 90% of individuals with HIV will be aware that they have it, 90% of people with HIV will receive treatment and 90% of people on treatment will suppress the virus successfully.
Partnered with PEPFAR, The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) also helps Côte d’Ivoire alleviate the struggle with HIV through funding for testing and treatment of those with the disease. EGPAF-Côte d’Ivoire trains hospital staff, provides working laboratory equipment, brings awareness to the epidemic and encourages universal access to ART.
5. HIV Increases Risk of TB and COVID-19
While HIV detrimentally affects the citizens of Côte d’Ivoire, tuberculosis and COVID-19 are also threats to the health of Ivorian citizens. Since HIV weakens the immune systems of those it infects, those infected are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and TB. Tuberculosis has been comorbid with HIV for the past few decades and around 20% of the population have both HIV and TB.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide treatment to those with TB and HIV and have established numerous testing and research centers. Similarly, Parole Autor de la Sante (PAS) is an organization with a goal of helping citizens of Côte d’Ivoire, especially drug users, by connecting them with resources to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV, TB and COVID-19. Instead of neglecting the stigmatized population of drug users, PAS works toward providing them with educational tools, sanitary equipment and community-based testing. PAS additionally advocates for sending testing supplies to inmates in the Abidjan prison system.
Funding from organizations and other countries provides medicine, testing, disease tracking and training for doctors, all of which help the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country. Due to increased attention to the virus, as well as more access to medicine and tracking, the threat of HIV in Côte d’Ivoire is slowly loosening its grip. With these international efforts assisting in the battle against HIV, hopes and possibilities exist for a future where HIV is no longer a leading cause of mortality for the people of Côte d’Ivoire.
– Danielle Kuzel