February 6, 2023

The World Health Organisation says that the African continent accounts for the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to the body, 25.6 million people are living with the disease globally.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said this in her message to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day.

The Day is celebrated every December 1 to draw global attention to the disease and remind stakeholders that it is still very much around.

According to her, progress has been made over the past decade with new infections reduced by 44 per cent.

AIDS-related deaths have also been reduced by 55 per cent, she added.

She said that the year 2022 theme – “Equalise” – represented a plea to everyone to address the inequalities driving the epidemic and holding back progress toward ending AIDS.

Moeti said that the progress was made because WHO and partners advocated and supported the expansion of new HIV prevention and treatment technologies.

The partners also provided guidance on combination HIV prevention, testing, and treatment, and built capacity in countries to improve data availability and quality.

Other efforts, she said, included increased access to affordable medicines, diagnostics, and health technologies, and support to national HIV treatment catch-up plans in West and Central Africa.

She said that the data from WHO on the global HIV response revealed that since the start of COVID-19 and other global crises, progress against the HIV pandemic had wavered, and resources had decreased, with millions of lives at risk.

“Four decades into the HIV response, inequalities persist for the most basic services like testing and treatment.

“For example, HIV prevention programmes reach only 40 per cent of adolescent girls and young women.

“Only one in three key populations, who are particularly vulnerable to HIV, have regular access to HIV prevention services,” she said.

According to her, they still face significant structural barriers, including criminalisation, discrimination and stigma.

“With only eight years left to the 2030 goal of ending AIDS as a global health threat, coordinated action is required to stop the effects of the epidemic, with a precise focus to reach those most affected.

“At the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on AIDS in 2021, world leaders adopted the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Ending Inequalities and Getting on Track to End AIDS by 2030.

“The Heads of State and Government committed to ending all inequalities faced by people living with – and affected by – HIV in communities and countries, which are barriers to ending AIDS”, she said.

The Regional Director advised governments and partners to close the inequality gaps in the progress toward ending AIDS by focusing on the populations that are being left behind.

According to her, Africa needs to put people at the centre of the response by organising services around people’s needs and promoting integrated patient-centred approaches that were strongly linked with primary health care services.

“We must ensure that everyone, everywhere has equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care,” she said.

Moeti urged ministries of health to build resilient and adaptable health systems that could detect inequalities and provide appropriate approaches to address inequalities.

She noted that such required financial investment, integrated laboratory systems, a well-trained and adequate health workforce, equitable access to medicines and robust data systems.

(NAN)

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