Magazine article New African

'I Am an Incorrigible Optimist. We Can End HIV/Aids by 2030'

Magazine article New African

'I Am an Incorrigible Optimist. We Can End HIV/Aids by 2030'

Article excerpt

Since taking office in 2009, Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, has relentlessly pushed his vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero Aids-related deaths and ending the Aids epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. He discusses progress made so far.

The response to HIV/Aids is deeply interwoven with, and dependent upon, progress across the areas covered by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Progress and achievement across a range of the goals will be accelerated, with the ending of the HIV/Aids epidemic.

And I am proud to say that the Aids response in Africa has achieved historic and unprecedented success. Today, more than 11.7m of the 19.4m people living with HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa have access to life-saving treatment, compared to just 4.1m who had access in 2010.

People living with HIV on treatment are living longer, healthier lives. And, as the virus is suppressed among people on treatment, onward transmission of HIV is decreased. Between 2015 and 2016, 2.4 million people were newly added on HIV treatment, a scale-up that just a decade ago would have taken years to achieve. What used to take five or even 10 years to achieve is now taking just months.

Since 2010, the number of new HIV infections among children in Eastern and Southern Africa has reduced by 56%, and Aids-related deaths in all ages, have declined by 42%. The region is also leading the way in reducing new HIV infections--and has recorded a 30% reduction since 2010, with Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe reducing new HIV infections by around 40% in the same period.

As such, life expectancy in Africa is now at its highest level since the peak of the Aids epidemic and is set to rise further as health outcomes continue to improve across the continent.

Today, Africa is taking control of HIV.

Since I launched the 90-90-90 targets in 2014--whereby, by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads--I have witnessed new hope across Africa. In the past three years, the response to HIV has accelerated as the continents leaders have recognised and seized the opportunity to end the Aids epidemic.

Today in Eastern and Southern Africa, 76% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 79% of people who know their HIV-positive status have access to antiretroviral therapy and 83% of people who are on treatment have undetectable levels of HIV.

This means that 50% of all people living with HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa are virally suppressed, keeping them alive and preventing onward transmission of the virus.

Many countries, including Botswana, I have surpassed their 90-90-90 targets --a remarkable achievement, resulting from accelerated HIV treatment and prevention efforts.

Fighting HIV: men are lagging behind

However, there is no time for complacency: people are still being left behind.

Men are being left behind in the push to 90-90-90, in turn affecting the lives of women and children.

UNAIDS estimates show that less than 50% of young men know how to protect themselves from HIV infection and studies in Eastern and Southern Africa find that men are much less likely to know their HIV status or start treatment than women.

In South Africa, for example, 61% of adult women living with HIV were accessing HIV treatment in 2016, but just 47% of adult men did so. Aids-related deaths were 27% lower among women than among men globally. And as such, we need to engage with men differently.

In addition, progress across Africa is astonishingly unequal. …

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