By Lidia Shafik, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health
A recent article in The Lancet suggests the HIV community made a serious error by pursuing the end of AIDS message. HIV, and AIDS, are still, in fact, widespread and rampant and much more needs to be done about this. According to Concern’s Breda Gahan, speaking this week during the Global Health Exchange (GHE) conference, “HIV is being left behind – especially among the poorest people living with HIV and affected populations.”
AIDS is still the leading cause of death among young people aged 10-24 in Africa, and the second leading cause of death globally. In 2017, 36.9 million people living with HIV. 15.3 million of these are not on antiretroviral therapy (ART). This means 40% of those with HIV are infectious to others and are likely to have a lower quality of life. In addition, their immune systems are much more susceptible to contracting certain other diseases.
The World Health Organisation’s third Sustainable Development Goal is to ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages. Target 3.3 states that, by 2030, there will be an end to epidemics of AIDS, TB, malaria, non-tropical diseases. It also aims to combat hepatitis, waterborne and other communicable diseases. It is with great dismay I report that the world is not on track to achieving this. As Breda Gahan pointed out, new HIV infections globally have only declined by 18% since 2010. This is far less than the 75% reduction that must be achieved by 2020. As well as this, HIV and heath funding globally has remained flat in recent years.
One problem contributing to the HIV epidemic is ongoing ‘condom stigma’. “We are missing a cost-effective opportunity to maximise the contribution of condoms to reducing HIV infections, STIs and unintended pregnancies,” according to Henk Van Renterghem, Senior Advisor, UNAIDS, quoted by Breda. Condoms are the safest and cheapest way to protect from unplanned parenthood, STIs, HIV, and cervical cancers. But, unfortunately, they are still stigmatised. In Even if we look locally in Ireland at how difficult it is to buy condoms in main outlets such as Tesco. They are locked behind a glass case when they should be as readily available as buying vegetables. Not to mention the 13.5% VAT on condoms in Ireland.
There is much more we can do to fix this problem. On a local level, we can put pressure on our governments to make condoms more accessible on a cost and accessibility basis. Globally, we urgently need to advocate for action. We need to help people break through the walls of stigma and non-inclusion. In the words of the EECA AIDS 2018 Campaign, we need to “chase the virus, not people.”
7th November 2018