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The MAC AIDS Fund: The Changing Face of HIV and AIDS

December 17, 2007

(Nancy Mahon is a senior vice president at M·A·C Cosmetics, where she serves as a member of the brand's senior management team and oversees the strategic direction and day-to-day operation of the M·A·C AIDS Fund. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Exuding glamour, guts, and edge, the MAC AIDS Fund, the philanthropic arm of MAC cosmetics (an Estée Lauder brand), is the largest corporate, non-pharmaceutical donor to the fight against AIDS. We at the fund have always chosen to fund programs and regions that others have ignored, raising awareness on prevention, the link between poverty and HIV/AIDS, access to care, and adherence to medications and treatments.

This past November, MAC and the MAC AIDS Fund surpassed an important milestone: raising over $100 million for AIDS/HIV prevention and care.

In marking the occasion, we wanted to gauge how far the public and the AIDS/HIV field had come in battling the virus and issues such as poverty and stigma that hasten the spread of it. We therefore decided to commission a global public opinion audit involving some 4,500 respondents in nine countries. In resource-rich countries where phones are widely available (e.g., the U.S. and France) random-digit dial-sampling was used, whereas in resource-poor countries with less access to phones (India, South Africa) face-to-face interviews were conducted. We also composed the questions with an eye toward measuring what respondents knew about AIDS/HIV prevention and treatment, how they felt about people living with the virus, and what they saw as the major barriers to stemming the spread of HIV.

The answers were startling in their clarity. Over 86 percent of respondents believed shame and stigma was a major barrier to HIV prevention and 50 percent felt that shame and stigma was the major barrier. Gender differences were also apparent across all countries, with female respondents reporting much higher awareness around shame and stigma -- and much greater difficulty taking to their sexual partners about HIV -- than their male counterparts. Across all nations, survey participants had an inflated sense of the effectiveness of HIV treatment. In India, for instance, 59 percent of survey respondents thought there was a cure for AIDS.

The survey results received enormous media attention in international as well as local outlets. We did a global media release of the results in mid-November that included a roundtable discussion in New York City and got a second wave of interest around World AIDS Day. (We plan to hold similar roundtables in the UK and South Africa in 2008.) The survey also was successful in sparking debate both within the AIDS community and the broader public, and the results will be invaluable to the MAC AIDS Fund as we think about our next three to five years of funding.

Clearly, there's a great deal more work to do around the shame and stigma surrounding AIDS/HIV, and we will redouble our efforts to fund prevention programs that address these issues in a concrete and measurable fashion. We will also maintain our commitment to funding programs that tackle poverty-related issues such food insecurity and lack of housing, both of which fuel the spread of the virus.

Now we want to hear from you. How are we doing? What could we do better? And what have we overlooked? We'd love to hear your thoughts....

-- Nancy Mahon, esq.

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The MAC AIDS global public opinion survey underscores the urgent need to address shame and stigma surrounding HIV in order to advance prevention efforts. However, HIV risk is compounded among a number of marginalized populations — including men who have sex with men, sex workers, and injecting drug users — who face additional stigma and discrimination and whose particular needs are often overlooked by policies and programs. As a result, these populations represent hidden drivers of the HIV epidemic in many countries. The MAC AIDS Fund, with its tremendous visibility, resources, and willingness to work “outside of the box,” has the potential to play a critical role in supporting the HIV prevention, care, and treatment needs of these vulnerable and underserved populations.

-- Naomi Rutenberg, PhD, Director, HIV and AIDS Program, Population Council

im in kenya and i deal with community awareness and mobilization whereby i specialize in hiv/aids awareness and behaviour change i would like anybody interested to help in funding the project and also get volunteers to come and help in the fight against aids please get in touch

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