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#AIDS2016 opens with calls for reinvigorated force to fight HIV, and inclusion of still-neglected populations

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that to fight HIV and AIDS, “we have to help people access services and live with dignity.” To do this, “we have to expand resources, science and services. And we have to protect and promote the rights of PLHIVs, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons. When we do this, we can end stigma and discrimination, prevent the spread of HIV, and save lives.”

Durban, SOUTH AFRICA – The International AIDS Conference (IAC) 2016 opened with calls not only for reinvigorated force to battle HIV, particularly with many of those that used to back HIV-related efforts winding down their financial support; but also for the inclusion particularly of populations that are often left out of HIV-related conversations, even if they are among the most affected by HIV.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that to fight HIV and AIDS, “we have to help people access services and live with dignity.” To do this, “we have to expand resources, science and services. And we have to protect and promote the rights of people living with HIV (PLHIVs), gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons. When we do this, we can end stigma and discrimination, prevent the spread of HIV, and save lives,” Ban said.

Adding to this call was Oscar-winner Charlize Theron – a celebrity who is not only lending her name to shed attention to HIV but is also helping the HIV cause via the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project – who wanted to give the spotlight to adolescents. “We have not paid attention (to them) at all,” she said, adding that “we have to stop and say that we might have made a mistake (not including them).”

Theron also said that the fight against HIV is a personal passion because everyone, particularly in South Africa where she originally came from, everyone has been touched by HIV and AIDS whether directly or indirectly.

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“We might be pushing this rock up the same hill again. We are so close to pushing this rock over the edge, but there has to be more conversation about ending this epidemic, and not just sustaining it or maintaining it,” Theron said.

For Theron, including the youth is important because they may see the end of HIV, though only if they are included in the conversation.

There have been successes in the fight against AIDS, though these are coupled with continuing challenges – e.g. when IAC was started also in Durban 16 years ago, only approximately one million PLHIVs had access to life-saving ARVs; now, that figure is closer to 17 million. However, “30 million people still do not get the care that they deserve,” Ban said. Also, there are already countries that prevented mother-to-child HIV transmission; but “many children living with HIV lack treatment,” Ban added.

For Michel Sidibe of the UNAIDS, just as big a challenge is the dwindling source of funding in the fight against HIV – something he likened to the global response to malaria that funders thought was already under control so they stopped funding fights against it; but is now re-surfacing and thereby requiring even more money to be dealt with.

The decline in financial support may be because “the world is, for one, facing so many issues, including terrorism and migration,” Sidibe said, adding that 13 of 14 HIV-related donors reduced their contributions to the fight against HIV. And for Sidibe, “even if governments increase their funding, we will not be able to end AIDS by 2030” because the situation continues to worsen, thus necessitating all hands on deck.

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For instance, “I am scared that there are 1.9 million new infections since five years ago; I am not seeing a decline there. And I am scared that many young people are getting infected.”

Sidibe added: “We need to be able to call donors that it is not time to stop. If we stop now, we will regret it. And that is not what we want.”

“I don’t see Zambia; I don’t see Malawi; I don’t see even South Africa alone being able to put people on treatment and to reach the level we want to reach. If we don’t continue with global solidarity, if we don’t continue with shared responsibility, we will see millions of people developing resistance, millions of people losing their capacity to a (achieve) these great success stories,” Sidibe ended.

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