World AIDS Day

HIV & AIDS Clinic in India. Credit: David Taylor

The good news first. We can cautiously say that 2010 has been a year of better news for those working on the HIV and AIDS epidemic. The latest UNAIDS report tells us ‘new HIV infections have fallen by nearly 20% in the last 10 years, Aids-related deaths are down by nearly 20% in the last five years, and the total number of people living with HIV is stabilizing’.

More people are getting access to treatment, thanks in large part to the last Labour Government, who made the UK the second biggest bilateral AIDS donor. 5.2 million people in low and middle income countries have access to treatment, up from 700 000 in 2004, but 10 million more are still waiting. So not as many as we need – but more mothers are now alive to work to contribute to their communities as well as care for their children. More young people are receiving safer sex messages and support. And furthermore, we are beginning to win the fight against stigma and the Pope has made new dramatic statements on the role of condoms in preventing the spread of the virus, which will help health workers and educators in their prevention programmes.

A friend living with HIV with whom I worked at the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa has come through TB and opportunistic infections to find a treatment programme that works for her and is enjoying life now with a son born free from the virus thanks to an effective Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme.

So lots of progress, but as a great article in today’s special edition of The Independent shows, we need to be clever and adopt a cross-issue approach if we are to make headway in achieving an Aids free world.

For example, we know that keeping girls in school is key in helping them avoid contracting HIV– a Zambian study found that AIDS spread twice as fast among uneducated as among educated girls. Yet keeping them in school means we must intervene on many levels – as the Indie article shows, one of the main reasons girls stop attending is because they have no access to private toilets or sanitary towels. Providing these basic services and empowering the women of the future is a priority if we are to keep them in school and protected against HIV infection. It is not acceptable that 60% of all children out of school are girls.

The sector must look at cross cutting themes in our efforts to stop the HIV epidemic – education, sanitation and water for all, gender empowerment and well operating health systems. LCID welcomes Harriet Harman’s focus on women’s rights in her approach to her international development work and we ask that she continues to look at cross sector tactics in development if we are truly to improve the lives and futures of women and girls worldwide.

Serena O’Sullivan

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