[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A UN plan to eradicate Aids as a public health threat by 2030 has been welcomed by the Anglican mission agency United Society (formerly USPG); but UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warns that instead of eradication, the Aids epidemic could be prolonged indefinitely if urgent action is not implemented within the next five years. The plan will be discussed during a high level meeting at the UN headquarters in New York next month.
“The Aids response has delivered more than results,” Mr Ban said. “It has delivered the aspiration and the practical foundation to end the epidemic by 2030. But if we accept the status quo unchanged, the epidemic will rebound in several low- and middle-income countries.
“Our tremendous investment, and the world’s most inspiring movement for the right to health, will have been in vain.”
Mr Ban made his comments in a report, On the Fast-Track to end the Aids epidemic, which has been produced for the High Level Meeting on Ending Aids, which will take place between 8 and 10 June at the UN’s General Assembly building in New York.
Mr Ban described the progress as “inspiring”, and described as a “major global victory” reaching 15 million people with antiretroviral therapy nine months before a December 2015 UN-set deadline.
Mr Ban’s report underlines the critical role civil society has played in securing many of the gains made and the leadership provided by people living with HIV. It says that “community efforts have been key to removing many of the obstacles faced in scaling up the Aids response, including reaching people at risk of HIV infection with HIV services, helping people to adhere to treatment and reinforcing other essential health services.”
The United Society’s programme adviser, Evie Vernon, describes the UN plan to eradicate Aids as “good news indeed.”
She said: “Many have prayed in words and in action for just this possibility and are poised to help to ensure it comes to pass.”
A major step towards the 2030 eradication target comes in 2020, when the UN hope there will be fewer than 500,000 people newly infected with HIV; and fewer than 500,000 people dying from Aids-related causes.
“These goals are really ambitious as UNAIDS estimates 2014 figures for people living with HIV at 36.9 million and newly infected people at 2 million,” Evie Vernon said. “Nevertheless, it is possible if governments and civil society organisations work together. . .
“Faith-based organisations have always played a key role in the response to HIV and Aids. This includes the United society; we continue to support programmes to combat the impact of HIV and Aids run by Anglican Churches around the world.”
In Tanzania, the United Society supports a range of health programmes, including providing support for the development of the Anglican Church of Tanzania’s strategic health plan and training for health co-ordinators. And in the Chamwino district of the Dodoma region, the United Society is helping the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV initiative.
This involves providing antiretroviral drugs to women with HIV during pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding; providing HIV care and treatment for women and their children; the prevention of HIV among women of reproductive age; and providing counselling and contraceptives for women living with HIV.
In Zimbabwe, where nearly 1.2 million adults are living with HIV, the United Society is working to remove the stigma surrounding the disease. “lives are being lost because people are reluctant to ask questions or come forward for testing and treatment,” the United Society says on its website.
“HIV also creates poverty. As lives are lost, households lose income. Sometimes children are sent out to work to make ends meet, but they miss out on school and the chance of an education and better-paid employment in the future. And so the cycle of poverty continues.”
Research in the country shows that only 26 per cent of people with HIV felt comfortable enough to share their HIV status with their church leader; and that thousands of children are being expelled or suspended from school because their parents are HIV-positive.
Young people, aged between 15 and 19, were found to be particularly sensitive to stigma. Only three per cent of those approached were willing to take part in a survey.
“Stigma remains a major barrier for people living with HIV in Zimbabwe,” Mucha Mukamuri, the executive director of the Zimbabwe National Network of People (ZNNP) Living with HIV, a United Society partner in the country, said. “We have been able to share with politicians empirical evidence of the stigma, and this is galvanising a political will to tackle the problem.
“We want to enable understanding among faith communities. We want churches to create an environment in which people can openly disclose their status,” he said.
The research being conducted by the United Society and ZNNP is being used to break down HIV stigma in the church and “helping people to talk more openly about God’s care for people with HIV,” the United Society said.