Ahead of World AIDS Day 2023, UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, released a report that underscores the pivotal role communities can play in eliminating AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The report highlights both the accomplishments and challenges faced by community-based organizations in the fight against HIV, advocating for increased investment and recognition of their efforts. It further urges governments and international agencies to integrate community leadership into all HIV plans and programs.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to communities of people living with HIV in the 1980s – this was a traumatic time for many communities – 40 million people have died from HIV-related causes with many dying in the first decade when there was no effective treatment for HIV – Dr Doherty, Director of WHO’s Department of HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections (Source: WHO website)
World AIDS Day: A Legacy of Advocacy
World AIDS Day stands as the longest-running disease awareness campaign in the history of public health. It serves as a reminder that, while the world is not currently on track to end AIDS, communities can be instrumental in navigating the final stretch. Beyond being a disease, AIDS symbolizes a movement for empowerment and advocacy led by people living with HIV and AIDS and their allies.
Since the onset of the epidemic, individuals affected by HIV have been at the forefront, demanding their rights, dignity, and active participation in the AIDS response. The Denver Principles manifesto, established in June 1983, marked a historic step by rejecting the victim narrative and asserting the fundamental right of people living with HIV to be involved in decisions about their lives.
This manifesto paved the way for the Greater Involvement of People with HIV (GIPA) principle, embraced by 42 governments in the 1994 Paris Declaration. Subsequently, it gained endorsement from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in 2001, with continued support in the High-Level Meetings on HIV/AIDS in 2006, 2011, 2016, and 2021.
Engagement And Support Of Key Populations
The GIPA principle remains integral to WHO’s strategies on AIDS, with the latest 2022-2030 strategy calling for the engagement and support of key populations, women living with HIV, and civil society in decision-making, policy-making, and service delivery.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to communities of people living with HIV in the 1980s – this was a traumatic time for many communities – 40 million people have died from HIV-related causes with many dying in the first decade when there was no effective treatment for HIV,” says Dr Doherty, Director of WHO’s Department of HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections on the WHO website. “The fact that their legacy lives on through the GIPA principle continues to inspire and motivate many of us working to end AIDS as a public health threat.”
Communities as Trusted Voices and Leaders
Communities have been the driving force in the AIDS response from the outset. They bridge gaps, create solutions, hold providers and governments accountable, and lead inspiring movements for health, dignity, and human rights. The report, titled “Communities Light the Way to End AIDS by 2030,” highlights the achievements and challenges of community-based organizations in the fight against HIV. It emphasizes the need for increased investment, recognition of their work, and the integration of community leadership into all HIV plans and programs.
Challenges and Opportunities: Supporting Communities
The report also sheds light on the barriers and threats faced by communities, including stigma, discrimination, violence, criminalization, legal restrictions, funding gaps, and limited participation in decision-making. It calls on governments and international agencies to remove these obstacles, ensuring communities have the necessary resources and space to operate effectively and safely.
Empowering and funding women-led organizations is underscored, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated existing inequalities. The report recognizes that violence against women and girls is a major driver of HIV infection. It calls for an end to violence, ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights, and increasing access to education, economic opportunities, and leadership positions for women and girls.
The Path to End AIDS: A Call for Action and Solidarity
In conclusion, the report asserts that the world can end AIDS in seven years, but only with due recognition, respect, and resources for communities. It calls for increased collaboration and solidarity among stakeholders, including governments, civil society, the private sector, donors, and international organizations. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, underscores that letting communities lead is essential for building healthier and stronger societies. Their role will be critical in reaching the 2030 target and sustaining gains beyond. Across the HIV response, no other actor can deliver what communities can, she affirms.