10 Best Careers in the HIV/AIDS Battle- World Aids Day


Ten Best Careers in the HIV/AIDS Battle

One of the most important things to understand about the battle against HIV/AIDS is that the front lines are overseas. The number of new cases being reported in the United States slowed its climb in the 1990s. So did the deaths, largely because of the development of effective retroviral drugs. Nevertheless there are an estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV or AIDS in the United States currently, with about 17,000 - 18,000 deaths recorded annually from the disease. The numbers of infected U.S. citizens continues to climb due to the slowed death rate.

According to 2008 statistics, worldwide at that time there were an estimated 34 million people infected with the HIV virus. Almost 23 million of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa. Another 3.98 million live in South or Southeast Asia; 2 million in Latin America and 1.5 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The efforts of international organizations to try and bring this disease under control are focused principally on Africa and to a degree on Central America.

While there is a concerted AIDS education program underway in the United States, the real need for career professionals working with the at-risk populations and the infected populations for HIV/AIDS is overseas. The World Health Organization and several of the United Nations divisions are devoting enormous resources to this challenge, as are numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There are technical and non-technical career opportunities for devoted, trained individuals who wish to serve, many requiring masters degree and phd degree level education.

  • Epidemiologist: There are opportunities for medical epidemiologists with several of the international organizations; most of the supervisory work is performed by PhD or MDs with public health background. However the field research and organization necessary to track trends and infection rates for the disease are often under the guidance of a MSW graduate who has specialized in epidemiology.
  • Nurse Educator: There are a few highly specialized Master of Science in Nursing programs that offer a specialization in HIV/AIDS Nurse Educator. Workers in this field provide training in AIDS care and also, in many cases, cross into the public health educational sector to provide a clinical perspective on the successful management of an HIV or AIDS infection. Training working RNs is part of the job description; educating patients and families is another.
  • Public Health Advisor: Many of the countries with rapidly rising HIV/AIDS infection rates have very little organization for or knowledge of public health services. Providing both timely treatment and education about the disease is essential in slowing its spread, and developing effective social service programs in nations with very little in the way of governmental infrastructure has meant building from the ground up. People with a graduate degree in public health or social services and some managerial experience are needed by every organization active in the field.
  • Research Nurse: The role of all researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS focuses on care as well as the spread of the disease and the associated behaviors. There are institutional programs in the U.S. that are undertaking some of that research in conjunction with foreign governments that have put HIV/AIDS programs in place. An important part of that research has to do with the cultural factors that inhibit AIDS acceptance, a necessary component of education about avoiding the risks associated with the virus.
  • Social Worker: On the domestic front social workers provide support to education and treatment programs for HIV/AIDS in hospitals, clinics, home health agencies, and AIDS service organizations. Master of Social Work graduates working in the U.S. also face the issue of stigma attached to the disease, so family intervention and education is an integral part of many job descriptions. In the area of home health care the issue of medication compliance can be a major factor, which requires another sort of education along with supervision.
  • Behavioral Change Advisor: This is a term commonly found among job descriptions for field professionals working with organizations like USAID or the World Health Organization. Explaining the fundamentals about unsafe sex practices and getting an uneducated populace to modify behaviors in order to avoid risk has proven to be one of the most difficult challenges in the battle to curb the epidemic in Africa. Behavioral change experts may be MSW graduates with a specialization in Behavioral Health, while an advisor working with behavior modification will be someone with managerial experience and a social welfare background.
  • Testing & Counseling Program Developer: There are bureaucratic opportunities in this field in Washington with federal health agencies; there are also opportunities in United States urban centers where the spread of HIV/AIDS is most persistent. About half of all new diagnoses for this disease occur among the nation's black population, which comprises just thirteen percent of the total population. Successful HIV treatment depends on early detection; thus the importance of a widely available testing program. The counseling required for the at-risk population encountered in social service agencies has become an integral function for recent MSW counseling graduates.
  • Children and Youth Care: AIDS related social work takes on several acute dimensions in the poor African and Central American nations that are not so prevalent in the United States. There are a significant number of AIDS orphans in Africa who have lost both parents to the disease. There are infected infants born to infected mothers and adolescents who are a high-risk population due to unsafe sexual practices. Managing education, treatment and care for these populations is a specialization at the organizational level and in the field.
  • Home Based Care Counselor: Twenty years ago this was a hospice job but that is no longer the case. Home based care has become a necessity for many AIDS patients whose lives have been extended significantly by medical developments. In the United States, working with agencies that provide home based care support can be a career opportunity for an advanced practice nurse or a MSW graduate. In foreign nations it may involve households where a child or adolescent is head of household; in the United States it may include poor households where nutrition is a factor.
  • Community Health Coordinator: Developing a community health program focused on HIV/AIDS is a communications job with important elements of social work and medical outreach incorporated into it. On both the domestic and international front, selling the dual concepts of testing for the disease and developing behaviors that reduce the risk of exposure has been a key to successful reduction of the infection's spread. There is much in the MSW training that pertains to this profession; there are also Masters of Public Health graduates that work as public communications experts.
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