In 2016, it was estimated that 36.7 million people were living with HIV – with a global HIV prevalence of 0.8% among adults. With HIV rates continuing to be a major public health risk, is enough money being spent on the prevention of new infections? The WHO estimates that between $9.2 billion and $15.4 billion dollars is required worldwide to successfully reduce HIV rates and provide adequate education and health services. When you compare this with the actual spending estimates of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, it’s clear to see that more needs to be done to prevent and control HIV infections. Which areas would this money be more effectively spent? Let’s take a look at some of the main recommendations for harm reduction.
Education and Social Support
One of the most effective ways of preventing HIV infections is by improving the level of education and social support provided. School sex education along with community health teams and early intervention could play a key role is reduces infection rates. Improved education could lead to an increase of testing rates, as well as increased use of condoms and safe needles. Media campaigns can also be an effective way of educating individuals and reducing the stigma associated with HIV. Preventions programmes need to be aimed at the highest risk groups and regions in order for them to work successfully.
Testing and Treatment
Making testing and blood screening easily accessible could significantly reduce the spread of infections. Early detection along with education on safe sex and needle use plays a key part in preventing HIV infections. Early treatment can be crucial in controlling infections and preventing them from spreading. Other antiretroviral drugs are also beneficial for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, pre-exposure prophylaxis, post-exposure prophylaxis and treatment as prevention, and new drugs such as PrEP and TasP are useful tools for preventing infections.
Needle and Syringe Programs
Providing sterile needles and syringes significantly reduces the risks associated with sharing injecting equipment, which can reduce the transmission of HIV as well as other infectious diseases. Needle and syringe programs can be provided to high risk groups through mobile sites, fixed sites, healthcare services and pharmacies. Funding for these services is currently not adequate to meet demand – an increase in funding would be an effective strategy in preventing HIV infections.
Part of the harm reduction process is reducing the stigma attached to HIV. We also need to consider social inequalities such as poverty and gender inequality. Research shows that poverty and lack of education plays a massive part in countries with high rates of HIV. Improving education, health services and information to these groups can help to prevent HIV infections. The stigma attached to same sex relationships, sex work and drug use also prevent treatment being accessed in some countries, which undermines healthcare efforts and reduces its effectiveness.