By Rose Ejembi
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has again reminded world leaders, global public health institutions, and civil society that much work still needs to be done if the AIDS epidemic is to come to an end one day.
AHF’s Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy, Terri Ford, stated this in a statement to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day under the theme ‘It’s Not Over.’
“Reports indicate that the world is worryingly off-track in reducing new infection and mortality rates – which means we all must redouble our efforts because millions of lives hang in the balance.
“We were glad to see the resiliency of HIV programs worldwide during and after the pandemic. However, the latest UNAIDS data shows that the global HIV/AIDS response needs reinvigorating, making our ‘It’s Not Over’ theme even more relevant for this year’s World AIDS Day,” Ford said.
She enjoined stakeholders and advocates in all countries to intensify HIV prevention, testing, and treatment efforts worldwide to slow the rapidly rising new HIV infection rates and protect the precious gains that had been made.
“We’ve come too far in fighting HIV/AIDS to let decades of progress slip away now,” she enthused.
Ford, while disclosing that the UNAIDS reported 1.5 million new HIV infections last year (1 million more than the global target of 500,000), and an estimated 650,000 deaths from AIDS-related illnesses, posited that it was for that reason that AHF is calling on the world to re-light the fire in the HIV/AIDS fight by putting an increased focus on Test & Treat and addressing late HIV presentation, aspects noticeably absent from the report.
On his part, Dr. Echey Ijezie, Country Program Director, AHF Nigeria, said the organization has planned diverse live and virtual commemorative events throughout its 45 country teams to pay tribute to all who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses and honour those who continue the fight.
“Advocates will also seek to refocus the world’s attention on HIV/AIDS and the people globally living with or affected by HIV. In Nigeria, AHF Nigeria is collaborating with the Association of Positive Youths in Nigeria (APYIN) and Positive Access for Treatment Access (PATA) to host a youth dialogue to get stakeholders in the HIV/AIDS corridor to engage young people on the peculiar challenges they face as young people.
“UNAIDS is graciously providing technical support for this effort while the event would see representatives from PEPFAR Nigeria, UNICEF, Network of People Living with HIV in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), UNFPA and other stakeholders.
“The avenue to provide a platform for young people to warehouse and present their issues while engaging stakeholders is one at which we felt is crucial in line with the global theme of: Equalize and AHF campaign theme of: ‘It’s Not Over.’
“These themes reinforce the need for stakeholders to work hard and moderate the impact of existing gaps that address inequalities and help end AIDS,” he said.
Ijezie revealed that the most recent UNAIDS statistics had pegged the number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide to over 38 million people with more than 40 million people to have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the HIV epidemic.
Also speaking, AHF’s Africa Bureau Chief Dr Penninah Iutung maintained that while millions of people are currently accessing lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, millions more still desperately need it.
“While the HIV response in parts of Africa has held strong through the adversity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, new HIV infections are rising in others, and young women and girls remain disproportionately affected, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Through initiatives like our ‘Protect the Child’ campaign, we’re making HIV prevention a priority by educating youth on age-appropriate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) across all our country programs.
“This, coupled with the successful Girls Act program and our Test & Treat efforts Bureau-wide, is keeping HIV/AIDS at the forefront of public health in Africa. We call on African leaders to do the same,” he appealed.