December 1st is an opportunity to celebrate achievement, remember those we have lost and to renew our commitment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
AIDS has claimed thirty million lives, most of them from the global south. Africa carries the highest burden. Of the 34 million PLHIV in the world, 23.5 million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. 15 million children have been orphaned by the pandemic. Beyond these figures are human faces, human stories and human sufferings. AIDS is a health and development crisis for us. It affects whole communities, disrupting systems, impacting on financial revenues. We all know or hear of children forced to leave school after a parent has died.
There is hope. With great technological advancements and new research outcomes, treatment has improved lives significantly, reducing the risks of both horizontal and vertical transmission. Promising vaccine trials and new prevention systems are being developed. Recent figures from UNAIDS show the world has moved a long way, but amidst that optimism we Africans need to remember a lot still needs to be done. Many of our brothers and sisters living with the disease are still waiting for treatment, and the stigma associated with AIDS is a serious infingement of human rights, particularly for women in impoverished areas. Efforts to increase the availability of condoms have been met with resistance, while many young Africans continue to indulge in high-risk behaviour. Even if the number of AIDS related deaths has decreased, sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for 70% of all people dying from AIDS.
For the last 3 years the theme has been zero new infection, zero discrimination and zero aids related death. But the main threat to its achievement in Africa is the dependency of our countries on foreign aid. A common proverb from Burkina goes like this: 'sleeping on someone else's bed comes to sleeping on the floor'. Yes, African countries have been sleeping on someone's else bed for two long. Most of our prevention and treatment programs have been funded externally but there are strong signs this aid will no longer be available. Africans need to be very concerned about such a consequence.
As we celebrate World Aids Day, we plead with our governments to increase their own resources on AIDS…..but we also say at individual, community and national level we need to take action. Africa can achieve these zero objectives but it is imperative we continue to educate, inform, empower and care TOGETHER.
My zero is to work for a greater access to affordable and quality treatment for all PLHIV. What is yours?
Chair of the Publications and Communications Committee, NAYD Steering Group