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Know how money helps AIDS in Africa before opening pocketbook

The AIDS epidemic in Africa only grows more serious.So serious, in fact, that people all over the world need to re-evaluate the tactics being used to battle the AIDS virus.

Although major progress has been made in increasing AIDS awareness across the globe, increasing actual support to deal with the illness has been less successful. Many organizations and charities have joined forces in the fight against AIDS, and one of the most effective ways people can help them is money.

It’s great that you want to open your heart – and your checkbook – to this effort, but before you do so, you need to know where and how your money is being used. In the end, your heartfelt contribution may turn out to have more of an impact on you and your wallet than the cause you’re supporting.

Probably the biggest misconception people have about the fight against AIDS today is about the (RED) campaign. In fact, (RED), created by U2’s Bono and DATA Chairman Bobby Shriver, is not a charity at all but, according to its Web site, a business model. Businesses that partner with (RED), such as Sprint and Apple, decide how much of their profits they wish to contribute to what is often referred to as helping “eliminate AIDS in Africa.”

However, eliminating AIDS in Africa isn’t exactly what (RED) is doing. What (RED) actually does is provide drugs to those already infected so they may, as the campaign’s manifesto states, “contribute socially and economically in their communities.” Providing drugs to those infected is indeed an important goal, but there are many organizations already doing just that. If (RED) actually wants to help eliminate AIDS in Africa, it should put its proceeds toward research for a cure, as well as toward drugs such as Nevirapine, which has been shown to prevent babies from contracting HIV from their infected mothers during birth, according to an Aug. 6 New York Times article.

Creating more drugs that have the potential to limit the number of newborns infected with HIV, which can be as high as half a million a year, according to the same New York Times article, would be a major step in the fight against AIDS.

According to a December UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic Update, 4.3 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2006, 2.8 million in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.

It’s also important for those living in Africa, infected or not, to be well-informed about AIDS. Without proper education at the source, there can be little effective help from the outside.

While seemingly less direct, education programs and projects such as the AFT-Africa AIDS Campaign, which offers resources for African teachers to develop peer-education programs, offer future hope in curbing the spread of AIDS in Africa., an international charity based in the United Kingdom, points out that discrimination is a major barrier to AIDS education. The charity’s Web site describes how social and economic differences between men and women have limited the female population’s access to safe-sex and AIDS education, which is dangerous considering 59 percent of those in Sub-Saharan Africa with HIV are women.

Another problem keeping information about AIDS from reaching people in African nations is cutbacks in funding from the United States, a major player in the fight against AIDS.

President Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” provide aid and funding to organizations that promote abstinence-only teaching both here in the United States and abroad and do not involve those that provide basic sex education, the distribution of condoms or that provide proper education about condom use and the possible benefits of safe-sex practices.

These initiatives have met with resistance from groups including the United Nations and the Center for Health and Gender Equity. Human Rights Watch referred to the initiatives as “jeopardizing” to countries with high AIDS populations, such as Uganda, which had seen progress until these initiatives went into effect.

Knowing how to help and knowing exactly where your contribution is going and how it will be used may seem insignificant, but they can actually be a huge step in the right direction in the fight against AIDS.

Ryan Claunch is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Abilene.

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