40 years after the start of the AIDS epidemic, Africa must embody the spirit of Ubuntu if we are to end AIDS – world

By Aeneas Chuma

Forty years ago, on June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report foreshadowed the global AIDS epidemic, which has since resulted in more 75 million HIV infections and 32 million deaths worldwide.

Since the 1980s we have witnessed remarkable moments in science and activism, and in the final year of the 40th decade of AIDS, such an unexpected and fierce global pandemic, it has made us rethink our preparedness. past, present and future health emergencies. A clear lesson from the colliding HIV and COVID-19 epidemics is that if we don’t put human rights and social justice at the center of our response, we are doomed to failure.

With less than ten years to reach our shared goal of ending AIDS by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the adoption of the new Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026 – Ending Inequalities. Ending AIDS.by the UNAIDS Program Coordinating Board earlier this year was a pivotal moment in the global AIDS response.

At a time in history when the AIDS response is not on the right track, the strategy suggests ways to correct and accelerate it. We need to refocus our attention and eliminate the factors that create vulnerability to HIV, hinder access to HIV treatment and prevention services, and perpetuate discrimination: inequalities, lack of social justice and human rights violations.

The East and Southern Africa (ESA) region remains the most affected by HIV in the world. In 2019, there were approximately 16.9 million people living with HIV in ESA. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of people living with HIV increased by 25% and in 2019, there were 630,000 new HIV infections. 4,500 adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 contract HIV every week in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2020, estimated that in Mozambique, approximately two point one (2.1) million people are living with HIV, and of these, approximately one million do not have access to treatment due to various factors, including stigma and discrimination.

Laws continue to criminalize populations; social norms continue to hamper transformation towards gender-equal societies and we continue to shy away from difference and diversity.

Sex and sexuality remain taboo, drug use is ignored and forgotten, people with disabilities remain invisible and migrant populations are the first to be denied services because they “belong” neither to the country of origin nor to the country of origin. host country.

UNAIDS has shown how COVID-19 has adversely affected access to healthcare and how human rights, especially of key populations, have been violated.

The ESA region has largely contributed to the new Global AIDS Strategy. We have organized over 80 panel discussions around the world with civil society in all its diversity, United Nations partners, development partners, religious institutions, governments and the private sector. The voices of all communities in these dialogues were strong, heard and made a difference – they shaped the strategy we now have before us.

The commitments made in the 2016 Political Declaration on Ending AIDS have not been met. Five years later, we have a new opportunity. The high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on AIDS will take place from June 8-10, 2021 in New York City. The meeting will review progress in reducing the impact of HIV since 2016, and the General Assembly plans to adopt a new political declaration to guide the future direction of the response.

The 2021 high-level meeting will be the springboard for a decade of action to reduce inequalities and eradicate the social determinants that fuel the HIV epidemic. We are at a historic moment in the AIDS response, 40 years after the start of the epidemic and 25 years since the creation of UNAIDS.

Last month, African health ministers approved a common African position for the high-level meeting. The document articulates the continent’s unified position and priorities for the next five years. I call on African member states to use this position to negotiate the political declaration as a unified bloc.

As Africans, we have to embody the spirit of Ubuntu, that is, we are only people through other people. We must put people at the center of our deliberations. And that means everyone, no matter who they are, who they like or what job they do.

Aeneas Chuma is the Acting Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa. Follow them on @UNAIDS_ESA.

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