HIV/AIDS has continued to be a public health concern for over four decades now with no cure in sight!
Celebrated annually on 1st December, World AIDS Day remains a constant reminder that AIDS is real and its health, social and economic effects far reaching particularly on the African continent where constant stock out of Anti-Retroviral drugs is a constant.
End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics, 2021
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics” highlights the urgent need to end the growing inequalities that drive AIDS and other pandemics around the world.
When the AIDS pandemic rapidly spread across the world, the international community for the first time collectively set an ambitious target to halt and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015.
When this was achieved, an even more ambitious goal was set in 2016, to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The collective vision of UNAIDS underpins these targets: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS related deaths. Despite these efforts, HIV still remains a big health and economic threat to the world.
The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and to ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
Countries committed to prioritize progress for those who were behind, as part of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals designed to end poverty, hunger, AIDS and discrimination against women.
Despite progress made in several countries to attain the 2030 vision, inequalities still remain. The Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026: End Inequalities. End AIDS and the Political Declaration on AIDS adopted at the 2021 United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS underscore the vision to end these inequalities.
For the majority of key populations and other priority populations, including millions of people living with HIV and those unaware of their HIV status, lack of access to treatment, the benefits of scientific advances and HIV-related social and legal protection remain beyond reach.
Effective HIV responses must also focus on other priority populations such as adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa and 47% of children living with HIV globally who are not receiving access to life saving treatment.
Over the years, many African countries have been and still are dependent on donor funding for HIV prevention and treatment. Resources for HIV responses in low- and middle-income countries have been decreasing since 2018.
As a result, none of the global targets set by UNAIDS for 2020 were met. National governments in both low and middle income countries should therefore step up to fund their HIV response programmes, slowly filling some funding gaps and working towards a more sustainable response for HIV.
A range of social, economic, racial and gender inequalities, social and legal environments that impede rather than enable the HIV response, and the infringement of human rights are slowing progress in the HIV response and across other health and development areas.
UNAIDS report pointed out that many of the inequalities that facilitated the spread of the AIDS pandemic are getting worse and they continue to fan the spread of HIV in many parts of the world. COVID-19 has brought these inequalities to the forefront and exposed the fragility of the gains we have made.
The resilience and experience of the HIV response in addressing inequalities that disproportionately affect the key populations and priority populations is critical to the once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘build back better’ from COVID-19.
Tackling inequalities is a long-standing global promise, the urgency of which has only begun seeing an increase.
The inequalities that underpin stigma, discrimination and HIV-related criminalization thereby enhancing people’s vulnerability to acquire HIV and make people living with HIV more likely to die of AIDS-related illnesses should be the eliminated.
The campaign calls for urgent action to maintain essential HIV prevention and treatment services that the COVID-19 pandemic and response have weakened in countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic however has highlighted useful interventions such as dispensing several months’ medication at one time, implementing HIV self-testing, and using telemedicine which have proven to be effective strategies that can be incorporated into normal routines.
Ending the AIDS epidemic in a way that leaves no one behind requires bold policies and reforms that reach out to populations that are deeply marginalized and vulnerable.
To end AIDS, there is still a critical need for increased funding for the AIDS response, to increase awareness of the impact of HIV on people’s lives, to end stigma and discrimination and to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.
As the government prioritizes leading the COVID-19 response, including campaigning for increased vaccine uptake in Kenya, and helping every community to build back better, it must at the same time forge ahead, innovate, and invest in communities to end the spread of and new HIV infections. Neither pandemic is the last the world will ever see.
But global solidarity toward eliminating inequalities, to granting every person their human right to health, is a step towards a HIV free generation!