stop-aids-nowby Olayide Akanni

Is the end of AIDS truly in sight or are we merely sloganeering? These
issues were the focus of a debate session titled “Ending AIDS: Myth or
Reality”  that held on Monday 9th December at the ongoing 17th International
Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA).

Allan Whiteside of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division
(HEARD), South Africa in his remarks noted that prevention is essential
and treatment is crucial for reaching the  medical, moral,ethical and
economic goals related to ending AIDS.

Lydia Mungherera of the Global Coalition of Women and AIDS (GCWA)Uganda
noted that women are disproportionately affected and bear the brunt
of the epidemic,adding that the  mechanisms  for empowerment and social
protection of young women  and girls need to be put in place .

On her part Lois Chigandu of SAfAIDS, Zimbabwe put a spin on the
question  as she asked whether stakeholders  are willing to  pay the
price to achieve the  end AIDS. She posited that “ending AIDS will
only happen when we put our money where our mouth is and translate
evidence into real  meaning in our programme interventions.”

But Mark Heywood of Section 27,South Africa presented an alternative
view to the debate when he stated unequivocally that the talk of an
end to AIDS is “misleading, potentially demobilizing  and irresponsible
and does not fully consider the realities on ground.”

According to him, several challenges still persist in the AIDS response
namely gender inequalities ,underserved key populations, high levels
of stigma and discrimination, waning political commitments and dwindling
funding available to community groups.

“Let’s dispose the notion of an end to AIDS. While we acknowledge that
we have made progress, we are in a more difficult space in 2013 than
we were a decade ago. The end of AIDS is nowhere in sight and we need
to tackle the social inequalities  that continue to impact on the
AIDS response.”

As the next speaker, Dr Evelyn Nigige , Director of the Public Health
Department of the Federal Ministry of Health who was representing the
Nigerian Health Minister at the session was being introduced, chants
of “Shame  on Nigeria, No to Tyonex” filled the room as activists
under the umbrella bodies of the Network of the People Ling with HIV
and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN) and the Treatment Action Movement marched
up the stage.

Spokesperson for the group and Coordinator of the Treatment Action
Movement(TAM) Mr Obatunde Oladapo stated that the group had come to
protest the unacceptable apathy of the Federal Government of Nigeria
to challenges People Living with HIV on treatment in Nigeria are
facing.

Aside from the issues of limited availability of CD4 Count and Viral
load machines in treatment centres in the country, key among their
concerns was the fact that a particular antiretroviral drug – Tyonex
being dispensed in many treatment centers in Nigeria, had been causing
severe  drug reactions  to many people living with HIV and may have
led to the  sudden death of one of the members of the PLHIV network
Mrs Gloria Nwogboniwe  on December 1 (World AIDS Day).

The advocates  called for the immediate withdrawal of  all batches
of the drug currently in circulation. They argued that despite several
correspondences to the Health Ministry over a month ago, no specific
action had been taken to redress the situation.

In her response, Dr Ngige noted that the Ministry was gathering evidence
before getting back to the advocates. Tensions rose high as the
advocates challenged the Ministry’s  bureaucracy  and slow response
time noting that the attitude reflected a lack empathy in a situation
which had now become a matter of life and death for PLHIV on Tyonex.

After the timely intervention of the Session’s moderator, it was
agreed that a separate  meeting of the advocates, representatives
of the ministry of health and  other key stakeholders will be held
later in the day to address the concerns raised.

Speaking to the session’s topic, Dr Ngige noted that hope should not be
lost as an end to AIDS is  feasible despite the current challenges in the
response. Her position was also reemphasized by Ms Chigandu who noted
that  having a daunting vision and ambitious goals such as ending AIDS is
critical .

Citing  that the WHO’s 3 by 5 initiative of placing 3 million PLHIV on
treatment by 2005 seemed unrealistic initially but served as a mobilizing
goal which stakeholders worked towards achieving.

While the panelists and the audience held diverse opinions on the subject
matter, they agreed that progress had been made on the road to ending AIDS,
However, reaching this ambitious goal will need  concerted efforts of all
stakeholders to address the gaps around promotion of human rights, waning
political will, accountability, financial and human resources, civil
society participation as well as the social and economic inequalities that
continue to fuel the spread of HIV.

* Olayide can be contacted at olayide@gmail.com

 

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