AIDS CORNER by Enock Ngoma-
The US Government, through the USAID Open Doors activity, increased its key HIV services to marginalised, vulnerable, and underserved populations in eight targeted districts over the past six years. This is according to a press statement released by the American Embassy in Lusaka on December 28, 2022.
The USAID Open Doors Project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health through District Health Offices, used an innovative approach to overcome barriers to accessing HIV services.
The project reached over 135, 000 underserved community members by visiting them in the community, offering peer referrals, utilising social media, mapping community hotspots where risky behaviour is more likely to take place, and providing flexible service hours.
The USAID Open Doors programme provided individuals with HIV services including condoms and lubricants, family planning, STI treatment, HIV testing, and linkage to treatment.
These services, along with the innovative outreach approach, contributed to Zambia recently exceeding the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) targets for HIV treatment and viral load suppression. Now 98 per cent of those who are aware of their HIV status are on treatment, and 96 per cent of those on treatment are virally suppressed – meaning HIV is undetectable in the body.
Zambia is also on track to reach the goal that 95 per cent of all Zambian adults living with HIV are aware of their status. The US Government continues to support the Ministry of Health to achieve this goal and urges everyone to visit their local clinic to determine their status.
In addition to health services, USAID Open Doors also provided economic strengthening activities, such as savings and loans groups, and strengthened the capacity of civil society organisations, district health offices, health facility staff, and members of the community to play active roles in managing the HIV response.
Impactful, lasting change is possible when everyone in the chain of service delivery is empowered. The US Government, through USAID, continues to support priority and vulnerable populations through the Controlling HIV Epidemic for Key and Underserved Populations (CHEKUP) activity, which works to ensure that there are no gaps in service delivery.
Meanwhile, a UNAIDS statement says The 51 st meeting of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board concluded today, with commitments to bold action to get the world on track to end AIDS by 2030. The meeting, which brings together member states, civil society and UN agencies, saw a series of pledges made and agreements for joint work which will tackle the inequalities which drive the AIDS pandemic.
“The meeting this week has made vital steps forward – on resourcing, on communities, and on inequalities. Delegates have committed to fully fund the AIDS response, to support community leadership, to amplify the message of U=U (Undetectable =Untransmittable), to fight stigma and discrimination, and to support education, empowerment and
Comprehensive Sexuality Education. By turning the commitments made this week into action, we can get the world on track to end AIDS by 2030,” remarked UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “We cannot fail. Failing means people die. Together we must win. By ensuring that communities are empowered and included, that inequalities are tackled, and that the HIV response is fully resourced, this generation of leaders can be leaders who overcome the AIDS pandemic.”
The Programme Coordinating Board noted that a fully funded and staffed UNAIDS is essential for progress to end AIDS. As the NGO Delegation put it, “Survival is at stake, real lives are at stake, we need your support now, not later.” Several donor countries including the UK and Ireland announced that they were stepping up their financial contributions.
Donor countries stated their intention to shift towards providing more predictable longer- term funding through multiyear commitments. Delegates also committed to support fundraising from new donors from across sectors. Board members welcomed the recommendations of the report of the PCB Bureau based on the recommendations of the Informal Multi stakeholder Task Team on the UNAIDS Funding Situation which can ensure full funding for UNAIDS.
“It was so encouraging to see the commitment of delegates to finding the money that is needed for UNAIDS work to lead global efforts to end AIDS,” said the Chair of the Programme Coordinating Board, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul. “With global crises and unaddressed inequalities having put the AIDS response in danger, the world cannot risk a situation in which the UNAIDS Joint Programme is underfunded. Fully funding the vital integrated work of the secretariat and the 11 co-sponsoring agencies that provides the data, advances the essential policy shifts, and lifts up the voices of communities, will save lives and help end the world’s deadliest pandemic. Delegates spoke up powerfully and in no uncertain terms. In 2023 we are all committed to ensuring UNAIDS has the resources the world needs it to have.”
The meeting saw the first international definition of a community-led response to a pandemic, published after a two-year consultative process that brought together 11 governments, representing each region of the world, and 11 civil society representatives.
Using the new definitions and recommendations, Minister of Health of Germany, Professor Dr. Karl Lauterbach and the UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima published an article in The Lancet calling for inclusion of comprehensive “community pandemic infrastructure” in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response in new planning, international agreements, and financing.
Organisations of people living with HIV presented, through the report of the representative of the PCB NGO, vital findings on the importance of amplifying the message of “U=U” or “Undetectable = Untransmittable”, that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, cannot transmit HIV sexually. They shared how communicating this important information widely helps to increase testing and treatment and also helps to combat the stigma that people living with HIV face. Their call to step up amplification of the U=U message won wide support from delegates.
There was endorsement for the work of the Global Partnership for Action to end all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, which has now expanded to include 33 countries.
There was praise for Barbados which this week became the most recent country to end the criminalization of same sex relationships.
Considering the power of education to tackle gender inequality and help prevent HIV transmission, the PCB endorsed the call for an integrated, multisectoral and coordinated HIV response. They endorsed initiatives such as Education Plus, positioning schools as an entry point to address learners’ holistic education, health and protection needs, and backed cross- sectoral collaboration across ministries, families, teachers, school administration and local communities to safeguard rights. They recognised the need for alternative mechanisms to address the needs of young people who are out of school, and the importance of UNAIDS’ support for countries to scale up their comprehensive sexuality education.
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