Ahead of 2023 World AIDS Day, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is calling for urgent support to Let Communities Lead in the fight to end AIDS.
UNAIDS demonstrates the critical role communities play, and how underfunding and harmful barriers are holding back their life-saving work and obstructing the end of AIDS.
According to a press release by UNAIDS, it urged governments across the world to unleash the power of grassroots communities across the world to lead the fight to end HIV/AIDS.
A new report launched a few days ago, by UNAIDS and entitled Let Communities Lead, shows that AIDS can be ended as a public health threat by 2030, but only if communities on the frontlines get the full support they need from governments and donors.
“Communities across the world have shown that they are ready, willing and able to lead the way. But they need the barriers obstructing their work to be pulled down, and they need to be properly resourced,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
“Too often, communities are treated by decision-makers as problems to be managed, instead of being recognised and supported as leaders. Communities are not in the way, they light the way to the end of AIDS,” she said.
The report, launched in London during a World AIDS Day event organized by the civil society organization STOPAIDS, shows how communities have been the driving force for progress.
According to UNAIDS, globally, 39 million people are living with HIV, while 1.3 million were newly infected last year. After years of decline, progress in driving down infection and mortality rates have stagnated.
UNAIDS reports that community organizations have secured landmark victories, such as:
- Securing groundbreaking changes in policy. Communities’ campaigning helped open up access to generic HIV medicines, leading to sharp, sustained reductions in the cost of treatment from US$ 25,000 per person per year in 1995 to less than US$ 70 in many countries most affected by HIV today.
- In Nigeria, there was a 64% increase in access to HIV treatment, a doubling of the likelihood of HIV prevention service utilization, and a four-fold increase in consistent condom use among people at risk of HIV.
- Among sex workers reached by a package of peer-based services in the United Republic of Tanzania, the HIV incidence rate was reduced to below half (5% vs 10.4%).
- In Windhoek, Namibia, a self-funded project by the Youth Empowerment Group is using e-bikes to deliver HIV medicines, food and adherence support to young people who often cannot attend clinics due to their schooling hours.
- In China, community organizations developed smartphone apps that link people to self-testing which contributed to a more than four-fold increase in HIV tests across the country from 2009 to 2020.
- In South Africa, five community networks of people living with HIV inspected 400 sites across 29 districts and conducted more than 33,000 interviews with people living with HIV.
According to UNAIDS, Robbie Lawlor, Co-Founder of Access to Medicines, Ireland, said that they are expected to move mountains without being financially supported, and can no longer be relegated to the periphery.
“We are the vehicle for change that can end systematic injustices that continue to fuel HIV transmission. We have seen groundbreaking developments with U=U, improved access to medicines, and have made great strides in de-criminalisation.”
“Yet, we are expected to move mountains without being financially supported. We are supposed to fight for a more equitable world and are tasked with dismantling stigma yet are side-lined in crucial discussions. We are at a tipping point. Communities can no longer be relegated to the periphery. The time for leadership is now,” He added.
According to UNAIDS, despite the clear evidence of community-led impact, community-led responses are unrecognized, under-resourced and in some places even under attack. Crackdowns on civil society and on the human rights of marginalized communities are obstructing communities from providing HIV prevention and treatment services.
The press release further states that underfunding of community-led initiatives is leaving them struggling to continue operating and holding them back from expansion.
UNAIDS reports only 20% of HIV spending reaches community initiatives today, down from 31% in 2012, translating to a loss of millions in life-saving funding. The organization maintains that the the impacts are already apparent. While 77% of infected adults now access treatment, just 57% of children do, indicating gaps in grassroots pediatric services, it explains.
UNAIDS stresses that community-led care will prove ever more vital as COVID retreats, spotlighting the need for fully-funded, community-led plans worldwide. With the right backing, UNAIDS affirms that community groups can realize the promise of ending AIDS within this decade, though the window to act is closing fast.