World Aids Day: A time to remember the lost and for the world to take action to ensure a preventable disease ravaging many developing countries doesn’t blight future generations.
I started working on HIV and Aids with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa in 2005. The country was in the midst of a health disaster – rates of new infections were soaring, treatment wasn’t reaching those in need and the South African government had taken dangerous steps by entertaining denialists and publicly recommending garlic and olive oil in place of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).
World Aids Day in 2005 went by in a flurry, with Zackie Achmat – TAC’s then Chairperson and a founding member– declaring staff to continue working on as usual as ‘every day is World Aids Day here’. There was much to do, and Zackie’s drive helped to push forward a major treatment material, ‘ARVs In Our Lives’.
Things look very different in 2009. I was buoyed with news reaching me in London of South Africa’s current President, Jacob Zuma, showing real leadership in his country’s fight against HIV and Aids, declaring he’ll take a HIV test and commit to providing all HIV-positive children under a year with anti-retroviral drugs. His words signal an end to denialism and a new start for South Africa.
And so I proudly wore my TAC t-shirt today to Number 10, where Gordon and Sarah Brown attended a special performance from the African Children’s Choir to mark the day. The Prime Minister reiterated his words from his official address and with 5 million people still seeking treatment, he provided words of determination in tackling the fight still ahead.
The UK government is the second biggest bilateral Aids donor, and is looking to secure this position by legally committing to 0.7% spending on international aid. I hope this commitment materialises and call on all to back the campaign to secure this so the UK’s sterling work to ensure HIV and Aids becomes history can continue with force.