WHO hails communities in driving progress towards ending AIDS

Nov 30, 2023

The UN health agency says it acknowledges the "resilience, dedication and innovation exemplified by community leaders and organizations in the response to the HIV epidemic".

People light candles forming the red ribbon symbol as they pray for those who have lost their life due to HIV and AIDS in Kathmandu, Nepal November 30, 2022. (AFP)

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 WORLD AIDS DAY 

Friday is World AIDS Day, which is marked globally on the first day of December.

In the leadup to this year's commemoration, the World Health Organization (WHO) has paid tribute to the role that communities play in driving progress towards ending AIDS.

In a statement issued Thursday, the UN health agency said it acknowledges the "resilience, dedication and innovation exemplified by community leaders and organizations in the response to the HIV epidemic".

It said communities have shaped the HIV response for many years.

That includes fighting stigma and discrimination, as well as advocating for access to affordable interventions, and community-led services that put people with lived experience at the centre.

“People living with or affected by HIV have left an indelible mark on the world with their activism,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is quoted as saying.

“The affected communities who fought for tools to prevent, test and treat HIV enabled 30 million people to access antiretroviral therapy, and helped to avert an unknowable number of infections.

"We stand together with communities to help end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.”

WHO says decades of investments and learnings from the HIV epidemic have catalysed broader advancements in global health and national health systems.

The response to HIV strengthened healthcare systems and increased access to services beyond HIV testing and treatment.

Investments and infrastructure from the HIV response enabled strong and swift responses to many diseases, including COVID-19 and mpox.

But despite "significant progress", WHO says HIV remains a pressing public health issue.

The agency says that globally, 9.2 million people do not have access to the HIV treatment that they need.

Each day, 1,700 lives are lost from HIV-related causes, and 3,500 people are infected, with many not knowing their status or having access to treatment.

"Innovations in HIV tools, such a powerful once a day pill for HIV treatment and accessible viral load testing, have enabled significant progress," adds the WHO statement.

"The fact that people living with HIV, who take their HIV treatment as prescribed and have no virus detectable in their blood, have zero risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners, is just one such example.

This was the result of years of advocacy and investment, and is a reminder that the target of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 is achievable, provided there is sufficient political will and sustained investments."

'Global solidarity'

Funding, criminalization, and limitations placed on the roles of community champions are seen as hindering the progress achieved by community leaders and slow global progress to ending AIDS as a public health threat.

A worker is tested for HIV as part of activities to celebrate Workers' Day in Lagos, Nigeria on May 1, 2023.

A worker is tested for HIV as part of activities to celebrate Workers' Day in Lagos, Nigeria on May 1, 2023.

Many communities, such as key populations of sex workers, people who use drugs, and adolescents, still lack access to the prevention, treatment, and care services that they need and deserve.

According to WHO, these inequalities continue to drive the uneven progress on HIV.

Continued funding to HIV programmes is needed to enable community leaders can continue reaching those affected.

"These efforts are essential to close the gaps in diagnosis and treatment for children living with HIV, and help all countries move closer to the 95-95-95 targets," says WHO.

The 95-95-95 targets aim for 95% of people living with HIV knowing their status, 95% of those diagnosed receiving antiretroviral therapy and 95% of those on treatment having suppressed viral loads.

“We call for global solidarity with communities today and every day,” said Dr Meg Doherty, WHO director of global HIV, Hepatitis, STI programmes.

“The leadership of affected communities has been vital to moving forward the HIV response, despite the legal, economic and social barriers they face.”

WHO underlines that partnership with people living with and affected by HIV is critical to the sustainability and ultimate success of the HIV response.

The organization says it "stands with global partners to applaud the role of the communities in closing the testing, treatment and care gaps for those left behind and in driving progress towards ending AIDS as a global public health threat".

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