Since its discovery in the early 1980’s, AIDS related deaths have reached an incredible 36 million worldwide. With an estimated 37 million currently living with HIV, the AIDS pandemic has an immense impact on healthcare and education within the societies it affects most. Although there is no cure, the antiretroviral treatment allows those infected to live longer, fuller lives. However, only 15 million people currently living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy. By volunteering abroad in HIV/AIDS projects, you will become part of the global initiative to prevent new HIV/AIDS infections and treat those afflicted with the disease.
Why Volunteer Abroad
If you are interested in taking part in something that brings together health, education, social disadvantage, and culture, then AIDS volunteer work abroad is perfect for you.
While it is likely there are many affected by this horrible disease in your own country, there are no fewer than nine countries where ten percent or more of adults are estimated to be HIV-positive! Therefore, help is drastically needed in multiple places around the world.
Volunteering abroad to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic will not only expose you to the heart-wrenching realities facing many people, it will also give you new insight on health care systems and numerous human rights issues. Treatment for HIV is not always accessible, especially in third world countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania, where the disease is more widespread; these parts of the world need as many advocates and volunteers as possible to assist with prevention of new HIV infections and to help those living with the disease to deal with both the psychological and physical effects of the disease.
Besides the individual themselves, HIV/AIDS has a major impact on families and communities. In fact, a lack of economic development has a direct correlation with the population of HIV/AIDS suffers in each country. Countries most affected by AIDS have issues receiving essential resources, are home to many impoverished communities, and infected individuals tend to have minimal access to clean water, struggle with food shortages, and lack proper medical care. But the latter issues only scratch the surface of the AIDS pandemic. The following are some of the most needy regions of the world in terms of AIDS volunteer work, where assistance is most greatly needed.
Sub-Saharan Africa. The largest and one of the most culturally diverse (and beautiful!) continents is unfortunately estimated to have 25 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that nine out of ten children living with HIV/AIDS in the world are living in Africa. Although newly infected individuals are on the decline every year, there is still more work to be done in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and psychological care in Africa. If you volunteer anywhere in Africa, from Kenya to Zimbabwe, you can be a part of slowing down the epidemic by providing healthcare and education to those living with the disease.
Asia & the Pacific is home to an estimated 5 million people living with HIV and AIDS. Unfortunately, many of these countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, outcast transgender populations, and punish those with drug related problems, instead of offering highly effective treatment options. Due to these biased laws, roughly only 33 percent of individuals infected with HIV are receiving necessary treatment. Countries like India and Thailand specifically seek out volunteers to help educate locals about how and why to get tested and about ways to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission. While contributing to the cause, volunteers can take time to explore the region and learn about the distinct cultures. As a volunteer abroad, you’ll often need to be aware of cultural differences while focusing on community education and working to reduce the stigmas associated with AIDS and HIV.
Latin America. Similar to Asia and the Pacific, Latin American countries unfortunately tend to discriminate and criminalize populations that are most prevalently plagued by HIV and AIDS. These criminalized populations, as well as much of larger society, are not provided with proper health care and education, thus contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Volunteers can help by providing HIV/AIDS education and raising awareness in local communities. In countries such as Ecuador or Peru there are high populations of sex workers and prostitutes who are stigmatized and marginalized within their various communities. The truth is, these populations have limited access to safe sex education and also tend to be the most affected by HIV/AIDS. Those with Spanish language skills can take advantage of their language abilities in these countries by conducting outreach and sharing vital knowledge.
AIDS Projects Abroad
Volunteering abroad in HIV/AIDS projects requires no experience, just a medical exam to ensure you are in physical good health and a self-check to ensure your heart and mind are prepared to contribute to the reduction of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Understanding the language of the country you are volunteering in is always a plus; by communicating with those infected in their native language, you will be able to better connect with them one on one and more effectively educate and counsel them. You may even have the opportunity to work with children infected with AIDS, and help them learn to accept and manage the disease. Many of individuals infected with HIV have not been treated with kindness or dignity, therefore your sheer presence as a volunteer will show them (maybe for the first time) that people care about their well-being and their future.
Those who decide to volunteer in AIDS projects abroad seek to extinguish the variety of issues that revolve around reducing HIV/AIDS transmission worldwide. To do this, you can volunteer to teach communities about relevant know-how when it comes to safe sex practices and drug-use prevention. This is a very satisfying way to contribute to AIDS reduction, as volunteers will sometimes be able to witness communities putting lessons into practice quickly.
Additionally, some AIDS volunteer work abroad involved discussing big-picture ideas related to AIDS, such as gender equality, LGBT issues, and discriminating laws. These discussions are often complex, since long-standing issues are often tangled in with a historical and cultural roots. Though you may not see the fruits of your labor during short-term AIDS volunteer work, trust that the seeds have been planted and will eventually make way for stronger, healthier communities.
Volunteers may also be tasked with assisting those who are already infected and providing support to their families. This is no easy feat and requires a great deal of love, patience, and kindness. In this realm, AIDS volunteers may administer medicine, discuss safe-sex and health best practices, and support individuals with reintegrating into society.
Benefits & Challenges
Understanding the history of the pandemic and the various paths to eradication are crucial in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Volunteering abroad in AIDS projects will be an educational experience for all volunteers, as they will learn how to become an advocate and speak for individuals who do not have a voice in their own societies. Volunteers will acquire valuable skills through engaging with communities and discussing complex issues (oftentimes ones that have been ignored or banned) in various cultures. Challenging others to confront an issue and demanding a solution is a good experience for all volunteers to have, and one that is transferrable to nearly any career path.
Volunteering will have its own set of challenges. You will come across cultural differences that may result in some degree of culture shock. When working on HIV/AIDS projects abroad it may become challenging to witness the extent of the disease in some communities, as well as the negative treatment that those with AIDS experience. Despite these difficulties, you will be able to focus your time on trying to change attitudes and educate communities on how they can stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, which will be rewarding and heartwarming.
Be a part of a bigger, worldwide effort in eliminating one of the worse epidemics of our lifetime. Be a part of the solution and create change in order to help eradicate and treat HIV/AIDS effectively!