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Institute for Black Life hosts annual conference

The AIDs epidemic is a rapidly growing global challenge. According to statistics gathered from Broad Reach Health Care, 39.4 million people in the world are infected with HIV/AIDS. Over 65 percent of those people live in sub-Sahara Africa.

Ernest Darkoh, a plenary speaker during the two-day conference “The Black Child and Family: Closing the Gap” hosted by the Institute of Black Life, presented his lecture, “Introducing Large Scale Antiretroviral Therapy In Africa: Reversing the Tide of HIV/AIDS,” on Thursday in the Marshall Center Ball Room. After disseminating staggering statistics of the occurrences of AIDs in Africa, he posed the question, “What do we do to turn the tide on this situation?”

“Global Policy position is that ARV therapy was not recommended for developing countries and that prevention should be the main strategy,” said Darkoh

He further explained that leaders espoused this policy because therapy is expensive, most developing countries are poor and there is little confidence that drugs could be managed, due primarily to fears of theft and market abuse.

“We should never do treatment in Africa. That was the global policy. We challenged that paradigm. Now we can treat people and it works,” said Darkoh.

Research leads Darkoh to believe that treatment is the best option for the prevention of the spread of AIDS. Working under BroadReach Healthcare, Darkoh serves as the leader and manager of Botswana’s National ARV program that is funded by a $100 million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates and Merck. He was also awarded a large USAID contract to implement a private-sector HIV/AIDS treatment system in South Africa.

In order to reverse the tide, Darkoh said that new infections must be prevented, testing needs to be provided for those do not know their status and there must be life-saving treatment for those already infected.

“Equipping people with key information is empowering them to change their behavior,” Darkoh said.

Under the Botswana program headed by Darkoh, patients receive ARV treatment, also known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, where the patient takes three drugs twice a day for the rest of their lives. According to Darkoh, AIDS patients who are treated with ARV treatment can go from being very sick to becoming a productive member of society, and the treatment allows patients to treat AIDs like a chronic disease.

Darkoh explained that ARV therapy disrupts the replication cycle of HIV, thus suppressing the levels of the virus, but it does not eliminate the virus completely.

Although the implementation of ARV therapy was successful in enhancing the infected patient’s health, Darkoh said there are many other challenges in trying to implement this type of therapy in Botswana and similar countries. Challenges include a lack of doctors and staff with necessary training, quality logistical systems and equipment along with poor public health models.

“It is possible and feasible to give ARV therapy in resource-limited settings, but we need new innovative models that are specifically designed from the outset to provide treatment on a large-scale focus on outpatient, non-doctor models,” Darkoh said, despite the challenges of implementing ARV therapy in lesser-developed countries, from his experience in Botswana he learned that it’s possible.

Darkoh concluded his lecture by urging people get involved.

“If you can, go to Africa. Get out into the rural area and visit those affected by AIDS. You’ll leave with a sense of fire in your heart.”

The conference continues Friday in the Marshall Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Former Surgeon General David Satcher will be the keynote speaker at 12 p.m. in the Special Events Center.