Billions of people worldwide are at risk for contracting life-threatening endemic diseases, which thrive in the world’s poorest regions. While most of us are familiar with diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, other less well-known diseases such as parasitic infections also pose significant health risks and can even prove fatal when left untreated. The Life You Can Save’s recommended charities actively work to contain and treat endemic diseases in some of the world’s most impoverished regions and communities.
A diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death knell it used to be just a few decades ago, before the discovery of antiretroviral treatment (ART) for the disease. Last year, 13.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS had access to ART—up from just 0.8 million people in 2003. During the period from 1995 to 2013, ART has successfully averted 7.6 million HIV/AIDS-related deaths. Between 200 and 2013, new HIV infections also fell 40 percent—from 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million.
Despite these advances in treatment, 35 million people still live with HIV/AIDS worldwide. That’s nearly 1 percent of all adults between the age of 15 and 49. The risk of contracting HIV is significantly higher for people living in endemic regions. More than 75 percent of new HIV infections occur in just 15 countries; in 2013, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than 71 percent of the world’s new infections—about 1.5 million new cases.
Despite advances in treatment and prevention for HIV/AIDS, there still isn’t a cure for the disease. That’s why education and prevention are two of the most important components of global efforts to contain and eliminate HIV/AIDS.
In 2007 alone, Population Services International’s (PSI) voluntary male medical circumcision (VMMC) initiative averted more than 260,000 cases of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and reduced the female-to-male transmission rate of HIV by 60 percent. To date, PSI has performed more than 475,000 VMMC procedures in Zambia, 292,000 in Zimbabwe, and 97,000 in South Africa.
In the last 15 years, 6.2 million malaria-related deaths have been averted, the majority in children under five years living in sub-Saharan Africa. During the same time period, the global malaria incidence rate fell by 37 percent and the mortality rate by 58 percent.
In the developing world however, malaria continues to pose significant health risks—especially for vulnerable groups such as young children and pregnant women. This year, there were 214 million new cases of malaria infection—472,000 of them fatal. In 97 countries, the disease is still endemic and 3.3 billion people continue to be at risk for infection. The majority of deaths occur in just 17 endemic countries, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 80 percent of malaria-related deaths worldwide.
Insecticide-treated bed nets, which protect against malaria-carrying mosquitos, remain the gold standard for preventing malaria transmission in endemic regions. Proper use of insecticidal bed nets is the leading cause of recent declines in malaria incidence and deaths.
To date, Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) has distributed more than 5 million insecticide-treated bed nets, and has plans to distribute 7 million more. Each net costs just $2.50, and protects up to two people for four years. Unlike traditional net distributors, AMF rigorously monitors net use after distribution to ensure that recipients are properly using the nets. Recently, AMF unveiled new smartphone technology to better facilitate net distribution and monitoring.
In 2012 alone, 35 million people received treatment for schistosomiasis, a water-borne intestinal parasite that can be fatal for children under the age of five. During that year, 83 percent of schistosomiasis treatments were dispensed in parasite-endemic regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite increased access to preventative medication (praziquantel) during the past 30 years, 240 million people still remain infected with parasitic worms. Only 10 percent of those infected receive any kind of treatment. The majority of those infected live in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 90 percent of all parasitic worm infections.
Since 2012, Schistosomias Control Initiative (SCI) has dispensed over 100 million deworming treatments at a cost of roughly 80 cents per child treated. SCI procures drug treatment for free or at deeply discounted costs directly from pharmaceutical companies, and works with Ministries of Health throughout sub-Saharan Africa to distribute deworming treatments through primary school programs.
Around the world, 285 million people are visually impaired, of which 39 million are blind. More than 90 percent of the visually impaired live in impoverished regions. In low-income countries, cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness and loss of eyesight. A cataract is a clouding of the optical lens, and may occur as a result of aging, eye disease or infection, inflammation, or injury. Cataracts are responsible for 51 percent of the world’s instances of blindness, and affect 20 million people globally.
Trachoma is a bacterial infection of the eye, and is the leading infectious cause of preventable blindness. Globally, trachoma is responsible for visual impairment in 2.2 million people; of those, 1.2 million are irreversibly blind. The infection is endemic in 53 countries worldwide.
Two of The Life You Can Save’s charities provide cost-effective surgeries and vision care for some of the world’s poorest communities. These services help prevent eye damage and loss of vision, and restores sight to those living with reversal blindness.
The Fred Hollows Foundation works to prevent and cure blindness and visual impairment among the extreme poor by training surgeons and other healthcare workers, funding treatments and surgeries, building and upgrading medical facilities, providing equipment, funding research, and supporting advocacy. The Foundation estimates that their typical cataract procedure costs as little as $50 per treatment.
The Australian-based organization works in over 19 of the poorest countries in the world, across Africa and Asia, including Rwanda, Palestine, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Foundation is also passionate about repatriation, dedicating part of their work to addressing health and rights of Australian Aboriginal peoples. Through its work, the Fred Hollows Foundation has restored vision to well over a million people and protected the eyesight of many millions more.
Seva Foundation works to prevent and cure blindness and visual impairment among impoverished communities in the developing world. Seva works with existing local programs and institutions, providing a range of vision care and blindness prevention procedures. Seva supports community outreach and education programs focused on nutrition, hygiene, eye injury prevention, and cultural awareness of local eye care services. Seva also provides free or low-cost eye exams, glasses, medical treatment and surgery to those who cannot afford to pay the full cost of these procedures. Seva’s cataract surgeries cost as little as $50 per person treated.
Seva works with vulnerable communities in 22 countries across Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Their work includes outreach and vision support for Native American populations.
The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We hold that an ethical life involves using some of our wealth and resources to save and improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.
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