World AIDS Day takes place on December 1 each year to show support for people living with HIV, and to remember those who have passed due to the illness. Since the virus was identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died from HIV/AIDS, and there are still an estimated 36.9 million people living with HIV worldwide.

Fortunately, numerous scientific advances have been made in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, and most people who are diagnosed are able to maintain a normal and healthy lifestyle. Thanks to antiretroviral therapy (ART), AIDS is not the death sentence it once was.

The Red Ribbon

In 1991, the red ribbon was created by the Visual AIDS Artist Caucus to bring attention to the disease and help reduce the stigma around it. The ribbon quickly caught on, being worn by actor Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards and by more than 100,000 fans at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 (Mercury, a famous member of the band Queen, passed away from an AIDS-related complication in November of 1991).

This year's World AIDS Day theme is "Rock the Ribbon." By continuing to bring attention to the disease and reduce stigma, the goal of complete eradication is within reach.

Total Control of the Epidemic

Through its many years of development work, the Humana People to People Federation (HPP), of whom Planet Aid is a member, witnessed the toll that HIV/AIDS was taking on families and communities, serving to increase the cycle of poverty.

In 2000, HPP developed the Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) program to combat the spread of the disease. This program model was centered on a door-to-door outreach program to increase awareness of HIV and counter stigma, counsel those affected by the disease, distribute condoms, and provide or facilitate testing.

Index Case Testing

The TCE methodology has evolved to respond to the new challenges of fighting HIV/AIDS. Today, TCE utilizes index case testing methodology to systematically target sexual partners of HIV-positive clients in hard hit communities. This highly effective approach developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and sometimes called "index partner testing," works by having a person who has HIV (the "index case") identify their sexual partners as well as family members (children, spouse, siblings, and parents) and invite them to be tested.

TCE staff (called "field officers") work from a health facility managing index cases, and coordinate efforts with community-based field officers who follow up, counsel, and test individuals connected to the index case. A close bond with the index case client is crucial, and field officers (who have been recruited from the community and are aware of local cultural norms and privacy concerns) are skilled in establishing needed confidence and trust.

One success story related to index-case testing hails from Namibia. In August 2018, Namibia reached a milestone—77 percent of people living with HIV were virally suppressed. DAPP Namibia (a fellow member of the HPP Federation) helped reach this number by being at the forefront of case identification using the index case testing methodology. In Namibia the community tie has been critical. In the article "Namibia's success in the fight against HIV," BBC News reporter Vauldi Carelse said that "TCE field officers have worked in this area for 14 years. They have built community trust and respect but not everyone can be easily persuaded to take an HIV test."

"Namibia used to have one of the highest HIV-prevalence rates in the world, but in the past 15 years, the number of new HIV infections has halved."

Vauldi Carelse

Planet Aid's Part

Planet Aid is a long-time supporter of TCE and continues to support TCE projects in Malawi and South Africa, which last year reached approximately 200,000 people and distributed 48,000 condoms.

Click here to read "Fighting HIV on the Frontlines in Mozambique" to hear from a doctor about the challenges presented by HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa.