One of Ryan Kavanaugh’s primary interests as a philanthropist is health care research and advocacy. Today, HIV and AIDS are among the most pressing health issues. In order to facilitate progress on this problem, Ryan Kavanaugh offers support to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. One of amfAR’s major focuses is public policy and creating better circumstances for individuals with HIV/AIDS in the United States.
In addition, amfAR provides a great deal of research on treating and curing disease, and it has launched targeted programs for people and populations most affected by it. One such program is TREAT Asia (Therapeutics Research, Education, and AIDS Training in Asia), which connects researchers, hospitals, and clinicians to ensure that people in Asia have access to cutting-edge treatments. At present, TREAT Asia is comprised of 20 adults and 18 pediatric care facilities across the region that collaborate on a number of projects and work with their local communities to improve the level of care offered.
The Need for the TREAT Asia Program
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia is incredibly complex and has brought devastation to the continent since the late 1990s. According to UNAIDS, more than 350,000 Asians/Pacific Islanders were newly infected with the disease in 2013 and almost 5 million people in the region are now dealing with it. In the same year, 250,000 people died of AIDS-related complications, which is actually a significant decline since 2005.
The epidemic has made an impact in most countries in Asia since it began in Thailand, where HIV prevalence is at 1.1 percent. The prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men has risen in the past decade, but that is not the only population affected. In fact, about one-third of new infections in 2013 occurred between heterosexual partners. While the overall prevalence of HIV/AIDS in India is down, a shockingly high percentage of people do not get tested until the disease has progressed to very dangerous levels. In China, the proportion of women living with this disease has doubled over the last 10 years. Rates of transmission are actually increasing in China, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. AIDS-related deaths have increased fourfold in Pakistan and Indonesia between 2005 and 2013.
A Look at the TREAT Asia Approach to Reducing Transmission
TREAT Asia was founded in 2001 during a time when little—if any—attention was being paid to the burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Since then, the organization has made great strides in developing both local and national responses to the disease. As a whole, the rate of new infections in the region has decreased by about 10 percent, and the number of deaths related to AIDS has decreased by 40 percent. TREAT Asia works in collaboration with researchers, activists, care providers, and policy makers. The organization, which provides a platform for a coordinated response to the epidemic, has become a model for regional collaboration on HIV/AIDS in other parts of the world. The primary goal of TREAT Asia is to ensure the safe and effective delivery of treatment to people in need, which requires education, research, and advocacy.
Despite the gains that have been made by TREAT Asia since its inception, a number of issues still exist. Only about one-third of all individuals with HIV in the region have reliable access to antiretroviral therapy, the current standard of care. What is particularly alarming is that the lowest rate of access exists among HIV-positive pregnant women living in South Asia. The use of these drugs can prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child, but consistent access to the therapy is necessary to protect newborns.
Some of the other challenges that exist are population-based. For example, more than half of self-identified injection drug users in Jakarta have contracted HIV, and one in four men who have sex with men in Bangkok are HIV positive. These two populations have higher rates of infection nearly across the board in Asia, as do sex workers and transgender individuals.
TREAT Asia’s Pediatric HIV Program
Another population in need of special attention and protection in the HIV/AIDS crisis in Asia is young children and adolescents. Throughout the region, these young people may not have access to treatment or knowledgeable health care professionals largely because organizations primarily focus on caring for adults. TREAT Asia’s Pediatric HIV program is the only one in the region that focuses on optimizing pediatric care and treatment through continued research efforts and training for community advocates, caregivers, and health care professionals.
In addition, the program focuses on providing for the unique developmental needs of young people with the disease. The Social Support Awards of the program provide resources for organizations to train their care providers in how to meet the psychosocial needs of children and adolescents who may face very different pressures and issues from their adult counterparts. TREAT Asia is also a participant in the Collaborative Initiative for Paediatric HIV Education and Research, an International AIDS Society project that works to facilitate more global cooperation to improve the care offered to children and adolescents with HIV.