Fight against HIV far from over


While there has been significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the road to success against this global pandemic is far from over.

Ask people you meet if HIV is still a major problem in this country or elsewhere in the world, and you are likely to be told, “HIV and AIDS remain the biggest challenge at hand, despite several effective drugs”.

Since the virus was first detected in Africa over two decades ago, several notable changes have taken place. For instance, we have moved HIV/AIDS travel restrictions and today we have the over-the-counter home-use HIV test kit.

The world has also made tremendous advances in the detection, prevention and treatment of the virus. Scientific advances such as the new HIV testing innovation – the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a new tool that has the potential to dramatically slow the further spread of HIV have been made.

The major indicators tracking HIV/AIDS rates also show that we have made great progress in staving off new HIV infections.

The number of new infections in Africa has gone down. Additionally, most countries around the world are reporting stabilising prevalence rates.

Ironically, some people are now using these trends to undermine continued fight against HIV/AIDS, thinking that it is not a big deal anymore.

Some major stakeholders like the Global Fund, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and others are advocating deep cuts in funding for HIV/AIDS programmes. Similarly, some governments have contemplated and diverted HIV/AIDS funds to other projects.

But what they fail to understand is that though we have won a multitude of battles against HIV/AIDS, we are still losing the war in many communities due to cultural barriers, poverty, gender inequality, stigma and discrimination to mention but few.

The pandemic is still raging and problematic in some parts of the world, including Southern Africa.

Despite these achievements, Sub-Saharan Africa has the most serious HIV and AIDS challenge in the world.

In 2012, roughly 25 million people were living with HIV, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the global total. In the same year, there were an estimated 1.6 million new HIV infections and 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths.

Based on these statistics, you may agree with me that there is no way that we can put our guards down while 47 percent of the global total of children living with HIV, of which over 90 percent were infected through mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding.

And the situation is likely to worsen, as an estimated 860 000 pregnant women were found to be living with HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa and we need to save their lives.

There is a need to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV to less than 5 percent through a combination of prevention measures, including anti-retroviral therapy for expectant mothers and new-born babies as well as hygienic delivery conditions and safe infant feeding, as alluded to by World Health Organisation (WHO).

Therefore, we cannot relax while the challenges to reach pregnant women in need of PMTCT services persist, not only in the region, but throughout Africa and beyond.

Although many countries have made great efforts to establish PMTCT services, many pregnant women in rural areas do not have the means to reach them.

I strongly believe that end of AIDS is in sight. It is time to look forward, to keep pushing the envelope, to redouble our efforts, to invest in our communities, to encourage new research and to give care to people who need it most. To make all of that happen, we all need to make HIV/AIDS our business.

August 2014
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