Community Development Health

World AIDS Day: End inequalities that drive the pandemic

As the world is geared to end AIDS by 2030, Mr. Edward Kallon, the United Nations (UN) Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator has called on stakeholders to address the inequalities that drive the pandemic.

He made the remarks during the national commemorative event of World AIDS Day being held under the theme “Equalise” in Marondera today.

“This year, the world agreed on a bold plan to end AIDS by 2030. That’s a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, AIDS remains a pandemic, the red light is flashing, and only by moving fast to end the inequalities that drive the pandemic can we overcome it.

“I applaud the Government of Zimbabwe’s political will and commitment in acting boldly, bringing together cutting-edge science, and their efforts in delivering services that meet people’s needs, protecting human rights, and sustaining adequate financing,” Mr. Kallon said.

In December 2020, UNAIDS released a new set of ambitious targets calling for 95% of all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 95% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 95% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression by 2025.

Since 2010, in Zimbabwe, new HIV infections have declined by 70%, from 75 000 to 23 000 in 2021.

In December 2020, UNAIDS released a new set of ambitious targets calling for 95% of all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 95% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 95% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression by 2025. Zimbabwe has achieved the first and second 95 but on track to achieve the third 95 with 95.6 -95.6 -93.2 because of good practices that have increased the uptake of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services.

Zimbabwe was the first country in Africa, and the third in the world behind Australia and the U.S., to approve CAB-LA, a long-acting injectable medication that prevents HIV.

CAB-LA acts as a pre-exposure prophylaxis and is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for those who have a high risk of contracting HIV, including Key populations and women.

“We can end AIDS. And yet, in just the last year alone, 20,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses and 23 000 people became infected with HIV. Women and girls accounted for 60% of all new infections in 2021. Why are people still dying of AIDS? Why are there so many new HIV infections each year?

“Earlier this year an alarm was raised that the AIDS response was in danger. And the latest publication entitled “Dangerous Inequalities” has revealed that on current trends we will not meet the global targets to end AIDS and that only urgent action to tackle inequalities can get the AIDS response on the track. It shows how world leaders can tackle those inequalities and calls on them to be courageous to follow what the evidence reveals.”

In his keynote address, Vice President and minister of Health and Child Care, Dr. Constantino Chiwenga said the theme seeks to spur stakeholders to take deliberate actions to ensure that all people, including those in risk groups, have access to services and are not hindered by any form of inequalities, be they policy, structural, social or physical.

“Government and Developing partners are ensuring that all people are served, through the deliberate and targeted provision of HIV prevention and treatment services. The thrust is for groups that would otherwise be inhibited in their quest for services due to inequalities and disproportionate exposure. Zimbabwe is among the first countries to decriminalise voluntary transmission of HIV.

“As a country, we have also expanded access to HIV prevention services for all people including sex workers, adolescent girls, and young women. The Ministry of Health and Child Care has introduced differentiated care models for the targeted and choice-based provision of condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and other services without leaving anyone behind. This has helped in shattering stigma and discrimination while increasing yield.

“You will recall that my Ministry also approved the safe and highly effective long-acting injectable cabotegravir (CAB-LA) for HIV prevention, making Zimbabwe the first country in Africa and the third in the world to do so. This drug will enhance and increase HIV prevention options and outcomes of people at substantial risk of HIV infection,” VP Chiwenga said

Despite the earlier COVID-19-related disruptions, which had threatened to reverse treatment outcomes, VP Chiwenga said Zimbabwe’s treatment programme has regained its composure and added nearly 100 000 new people in 2022, who are now part of the 1,2 million receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy.

On World AIDS Day, the United States recommits to ending the HIV epidemic in that country and around the world and rededicates itself to fighting the discrimination that too often keeps people with HIV from getting the services they need and living the full lives they deserve.

President Joe Biden said the US is within striking distance of eliminating HIV transmission worldwide. Thanks to the incredible dedication of scientists, activists, healthcare workers, caregivers, and so many others, enormous progress has been made in preventing, detecting, and treating HIV; reducing case counts and AIDS-related deaths; and freeing millions of people to enjoy long, healthy lives.

“Still, not everyone has equal access to that care. And for the more than 38 million people around the world now living with HIV — especially members of the LGBTQI+ community, communities of color, women, and girls — a diagnosis is still life-altering. We can do better.

“When I became President, we re-established the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and released a roadmap to accelerate efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030. Federal agencies have committed to nearly 400 related actions, working with stakeholders across the country to make the latest advances in HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment available to everyone. I have asked Congress for $850 million to increase the use of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), expand treatment, and fight the stigma that stops many people from getting care,” President Biden said.

The US is working to remove barriers to employment, with the Armed Forces, for example, ending blanket restrictions on HIV-positive service members being deployed or commissioned. The US is calling on States to repeal or reform so-called HIV criminalization laws, which wrongly punish people for exposing others to HIV.

“These outdated laws have no basis in science, and they serve to discourage testing and further marginalize HIV-positive people. Our important work to end HIV extends far beyond our borders too, with continued support for the game-changing, bipartisan President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Since 2003, PEPFAR has helped at least 12 high-disease-burdened countries bring HIV under control and has saved over 25 million lives. Its efforts to make HIV prevention and treatment services more accessible have achieved a 65 percent reduction in new HIV cases in males 15 to 24 years old and a 50 percent reduction in new HIV cases among females the same age since 2010.

“And its flagship Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) public-private partnership has reached millions of adolescent girls and young women, reducing new HIV infections in areas where the program operates. My Administration has also pledged up to $6 billion to the Seventh Replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria — an initiative that has saved an estimated 50 million lives to date. I am asking other international donors to match that commitment so we can together deliver on the promise of health and well-being for millions around the world,” President Biden added.

Ahead of the celebrations, the National AIDS Council yesterday launched Zimbabwe World AIDS Campaign 2022-2023 in pursuit of ending the pandemic by 2030.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende