Hmm…“Happy” doesn’t really feel like the right word there. How about: the World has made some amazing progress in fighting AIDS, but on this Day in 2015 there’s still so much more work to be done! That feels more accurate.
There have been remarkable achievements in combating HIV/AIDS in the past 15 years — the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 to enroll 15 million people on life-saving HIV treatment by the end of 2015 was met nine months ahead of the deadline, new HIV infections have fallen by 35%, and AIDS-related deaths globally have fallen by 41%. However, last year alone approximately two million people became newly infected with HIV, and 1.2 million people died from HIV-related causes globally.
This goes along with the belief that when organizations have the technical knowledge, personnel and funding to run effectively, they can make a lasting impact in their communities.
Violence against health care facilities and health workers is one of the most crucial yet overlooked humanitarian — and global health — issues, today.
As the Advocacy and Policy Associate for Housing Works, I had the opportunity to attend the 8th Annual North American Housing and HIV Research Summit from September 14–16 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C. The summit was sponsored by organizations such as the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC), Housing Works, the MAC AIDS Fund, and REACH 2.0, among others.
It was an exciting summit, where individuals from all over the United States and Canada shared research, ideas, and stories related to the social drivers that impact HIV. Plenty of evidence shows that housing is a form of HIV prevention. In fact, during the summit, we watched a video featuring the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julián Castro, who stressed, “The first step to better health is having a roof over your head.” Having a stable place to live provides comfort, safety, and the opportunity to focus on other important health issues. But now that we know this, what’s next?
Throughout the event, I jotted down notes, trying to grasp the bigger picture and make connections between research, practice, policy, and advocacy. While there are complex layers to the AIDS epidemic, I came up with 6 takeaways and action items that I feel must be addressed in order to accomplish the goal of ending AIDS in the United States.
For the past 4 years, October 11th has been more than just a day to me. It has been a commemoration, a celebration, and a reminder that half of the world is not yet equal.
As a girl, I personally experienced a number of health issues — Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, an eating disorder, clinical depression. Because I understand what it means to hit rock bottom mentally, physically, and emotionally, I helped lead a girl’s empowerment nonprofit, Healthy Girls Save the World, during college. I strived to be a healthy role model so that the girls understood that their beauty stems from strength, intelligence, and self-care, not weight and make-up.
But I was fortunate to have the resources, love, and capacity to better my health. As I learn more about the world, I am consistently met with the fact that is not true for all girls. Whether relegated to housework, barred from receiving an education, forced into early child marriage, or taught that they cannot excel in STEM fields, girls all over the world face unique challenges to leading daily lives.
On August 1st, 2015 I woke up to a message notification alert from the World Health Organization (WHO) about the efficacy of the new Ebola vaccine. The Ebola vaccine has been proven to be 100% effective in protecting humans against one of the most deadly germs — Ebola Virus. This was my second happiest moment ever since I came to West Africa to fight Ebola; my first moment of excitation was the recognition of the good efforts of healthcare workers by Times Magazine in 2014.
This is a post by So Yoon Sim, 2014-2015 Research and Policy Fellow at Grameen PrimaCare in New York City.
According to National Institute of Mental Health, one in four adults in the United States—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experience mental illness, and one in 17—about 13.6 million—live with a serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. However, approximately 60 percent of adults, and almost one-half of youth ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year.
As a Research and Policy Fellow, I had the chance to participate in a Mental Health Workgroup, launched by the Maternal Infant Community Health Collaborative (COMADRES) in January, representing my placement organization Grameen PrimaCare. Different health care providers that serve immigrant populations in Queens, New York City, joined this workgroup to identify gaps and barriers and develop innovative strategies to tackle mental health issues in the community.
In New York City, mental and emotional wellness has been under-prioritized in medical and social support services. Nearly 40 percent of adult New Yorkers with serious mental illness did not receive mental health treatment in the past year. Furthermore, barriers to mental health care and low utilization rate among ethnic minorities create substantial disparities in health outcomes across different populations and communities. In Queens, which has the highest percentage of immigrants of all the boroughs in New York, the patient to mental health provider ratio is 897 to 1, in comparison to New York City’s ratio of 510 to 1, and among all U.S. counties the top performing 10% ratio is 521 to 1. In terms of service utilization, African American and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of whites in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.
At our biweekly meetings, we first discussed challenges and the root causes of the mental health issues. In addition to genetic or biological causes or substance use that is not adequately addressed, we identified other contributing factors that are specific to the immigrant populations we serve. Multiple stressors that cause mental health issues include, poverty, work environment, social isolation, a crowded home, trauma and stress during the immigration process, domestic violence, and the general climate of fear and mistrust, among others. All participating providers also expressed the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate services, which will help improve the adherence to medication and follow-up appointments and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.
What we aim to achieve through this workgroup is to increase the overall community awareness of mental health issues by setting up an effective referral system among providers and organizing educational sessions and mental health fairs at public schools, which provide mental health screenings for children and also serve as a social space for immigrant parents. As in other public health issues, our major focus will be prevention: increasing community prevention efforts and creating more opportunities for community cohesion and support to reduce isolation.
Still, more work should be done to reduce treatment gaps and expand access to mental health services. In January, shortly after we launched our mental health workgroup, NYC First lady Chirlane McCray announced a partnership that will create a roadmap for a more inclusive mental health system in New York City, of which a comprehensive layout is still being drafted. McCray in The Root:
“I recently had the privilege of announcing that the city will invest $78.3 million annually to provide counselors and treatment to the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including children, families living in homeless shelters and the survivors of domestic violence. Our goal is to create a truly inclusive mental-health system that can serve as a model. This investment is just the first step.”
On June 29, 2015, our workgroup attended one of the five borough town hall meetings hosted by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, which McCray and commissioners of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene attended. During the public session, I presented the major findings about stressors that affect the immigrant populations we serve, introduced our mental health workgroup’s initiatives, and expressed the needs for the city government’s collaboration with community partners such as our selves.
Global Health Corps is a fellowship program that aims to create the next generation of global health leaders. The program model pairs two fellows — one national and one international — within a placement organization and gives them tools and supports them to develop into confident professionals. While certain things during our fellowship were beyond our control, we knew there was one thing we could always count on: each other.
Over the past year, we took a selfie together every day we were together — usually in the office, but as our project gained momentum, we got more creative, snapping photos during retreats, on co-fellow date nights and even during Skype chats.
We love our selfie collection because it illustrates the evolution of our relationship from strangers to steadfast supporters of one another, and capture so many memories from this past year, even if they just barely capture both our faces in the same frame.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but we didn’t feel like it was right to wrap up this year without getting in one thousand words or less about our selfie project.