NPR has launched a special series of stories called AIDS: A Turning Point in the lead up to the International AIDS Conference later this month. The series looks at successes and remaining challenges in the HIV/AIDS fight as global health leaders are poised to gather and assess where we're at in the journey to end the epidemic.
Below are excerpts from just a few of the great stories included in NPR's series.
Kenya's HIV Challenge: Easing Stigma For Gay Men
Health officials in Kenya say reducing the transmission of HIV among gay men is a central part of their national AIDS strategy. But they face serious challenges, including the fact that homosexuality is still a crime in the East African nation.
HIV rates among gay and bisexual men in Kenya are far higher than the national average.
Mutisiya Leonard, who runs an HIV prevention, treatment and support program for men who have sex with men in northwestern Kenya, says homosexuality is so stigmatized in Africa that many men don't want to refer to themselves as gay. This makes reaching them with safe-sex messages and HIV-prevention campaigns difficult. These men are reluctant to seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases, he says, and they don't want to get tested for HIV.
Nationwide, roughly 6 percent of adults in Kenya are infected with HIV. But the rate among men who have gay sex is more than three times the national average. Among male prostitutes in the capital, Nairobi, 41 percent are infected.
In order to address HIV in any community, health workers need to be able to get people to talk frankly and honestly about their sex lives. But Leonard says gay men in Kenya face stigma, discrimination, violence and even jail if they come out of the closet. "The fear of the law, the fear of arrest makes it difficult for people to be open about it," he says. Hear and read the full story at NPR. Is HIV Still a Death Sentence? Young People Weigh In
Think of this like a snapshot — a few perspectives of HIV-negative 20-somethings.
To start, we posted the following query on NPR's Facebook page:
"Thirty years ago, a positive HIV status was considered a death sentence. As treatments for the disease have advanced over the past three decades, we're wondering how younger people view the disease today."
Hundreds of people e-mailed and commented with their reactions. We also gathered reactions from young folks we met on the street.
Sutton Resler is 25 years old and lives in Washington, D.C. He says AIDS seems like something from another time — the monster under your bed that used to remind you of the dangers of unprotected sex.
"It, to me, has been somewhat of a myth — almost like a folklore, like, precautionary tale of 'be safe, always have safe sex.' "
An old precaution, maybe, but one he said he abides by. After all, he came of age in a world with AIDS.
"Just growing up and coming out and having sex in the time that I did — which started in the past eight years — being careful and being protected is something that is just a part of your life," he says.
For him, worrying about HIV in 2012 isn't much different from worrying about other STDs.
"To me, it's never really about HIV," he says. "It's about gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, whatever."
His friend, Kelly Heatherman, 26, says HIV is still the scariest.
"The prevailing fear I always have is HIV over any other STD," says Heatherman. "And that's really quite unfortunate, because HIV — it's not a death sentence. It's not going to kill you."
Heatherman said there are many other STDs worth worrying about just as much, like syphilis, which can cause brain damage if untreated. Read the full story on SHOTS, NPR's Health Blog. Botswana's 'Stunning Achievement' Against AIDS
The southern African nation of Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. Nearly 25 percent of all adults in the country are infected with the virus. Only the nearby kingdom of Swaziland has a higher rate.
But Botswana is also remarkable for its response to the epidemic. It has one of the most comprehensive and effective HIV treatment programs in Africa. Transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their fetuses and newborn babies has been brought down to just 4 percent.
A decade ago, Botswana was facing a national crisis as AIDS appeared on the verge of decimating the country's adult population. Now, Botswana provides free, life-saving AIDS drugs to almost all of its citizens who need them.
In the dusty village of Kachikau, near Botswana's northern border with Namibia, the chief of the village, Kgosi Mmualefhe, says the national government has gained control of what was a raging epidemic.
Mmualefhe says there used to be AIDS funerals almost every weekend.
"Nowadays, ever since the drugs were brought in here, the situation is getting better and better and better," he says.
The burden of AIDS in villages like this one wasn't just the deaths and the funerals, but the large number of people who were extremely sick.
"Most of the people who were very, very down, now they're starting to pick up and being able to assist themselves," Mmualefhe says. "Some who couldn't even walk, now they're even walking around the village."
And this is happening across the country. Hear and read the full story on NPR.