Invest more in HIV prevention and cure
The world has just marked the World Aids Day, which is commemorated every year on December 1. Africa like the rest of the world has over the years been paying particular attention to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and every 1st December takes stock of its fight against the disease when it reflects on progress in terms of curbing new infections and ensuring access to treatment of those infected with the virus. In Southern Africa, statistics show that while new HIV infection rates among adults have decreased by over 50 percent in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe and by over 25 percent in Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the worst affected region in the world.
HIV and AIDS prevalence has decreased consistently over the past decade with fewer people being infected, according to the 2014 Southern Africa Development Community Gender Protocol Barometer.
But despite the inroads made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst affected. SADC accounts for 55 percent of all the people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and 38 percent of the total number on the entire globe. SADC also accounts for 50 percent of children living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and 45 percent of the total world figure.
These statistics call for governments, civil society, other stakeholders and individuals to intensify efforts to curb new infections and ensure universal access to treatment by those infected with HIV. A number of reasons have been attributed to this state of affairs in SADC and sub-Saharan Africa.
One of these is gender disparities, which have been identified as a major driver of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Women account for 58 percent of those living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and they bear the greatest burden of care. Studies have been undertaken that show how gender-based violence fuels HIV and how stigma drives further abuse. It is crucial for countries to learn from these studies and strategise ways to fight gender-based violence and stigma and curb their effects on HIV.
In addition to keeping an eagle eye on the trends outlined above, it is crucial for SADC and indeed the entire African continent to move mountains to save the lives of HIV positive children. Globally 750 000 children are being treated for HIV while it is estimated that roughly 210 000 children die each year of AIDS related causes.
The goal for universal treatment access for children by the end of 2015 has become an elusive one. And given that SADC accounts for 50 percent of children living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and 45 percent of the total world figure, there is need for governments and stakeholders to ratchet up action to save the lives of infected children or prevent new infections to children.
According to data released by UNICEF ahead of the World Aids Day, at least 1.1 million HIV infections among children under 15 have been averted as new cases declined by over 50 percent between 2005 and 2013.
But more must be done to keep expanding the access of pregnant women living with HIV to services for the prevention of mother-to -child transmission. Countries have the challenge to increase their investment in reaching every mother, new born, child and adolescent with HIV prevention and treatment programmes.