We have the tools to defeat HIV and AIDS but attitudes need to change
Following this week’s International AIDS Conference held in Durban. VSO’s Lead Health Adviser, Clive Ingleby, discusses the latest developments in the fight against HIV and AIDS and the shameful attitudes that continue to plague progress.
It has been quite a week at the International AIDS Conference. Over 18,000 people attended. Now as the end of the conference approaches, the period of reflection begins. 16 years ago – as a VSO volunteer working in South Africa – I attended my first AIDS Conference also held in Durban. It is striking how much has changed since then, but also – and tragically – how little.
We have the tools to defeat HIV and AIDS
First the good news. We now have the tools to defeat HIV and AIDS. The array of medical treatments compared to what existed 16 years ago is impressive. Antiretroviral treatment is reaching millions. Pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis treatments are available. Not to mention condoms, microbicides and public awareness campaigns.
Furthermore we understand so much more about the medical effects of the HIV virus and how to support those who are living with HIV – the condition can now be controlled as a chronic illness rather than being an automatic death sentence.
But the sad and shameful reality is that despite the medical advances and the work of development organisations, millions of people living with or affected by HIV are still being left behind – due to stigma, discrimination, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry. Often these attitudes are disguised as ‘religious conviction’ or ‘traditional culture and beliefs’.
The message clearly emerging from Durban this week is that – as one speaker so eloquently put it – “the level of inequality we currently see is really shameful for humanity”.
The list of groups who still struggle to access HIV services is daunting. The unfortunate truth is that it is the same people who face significant challenges when it comes to accessing all forms of health care: Adolescents and youth (especially girls and young women), people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex people, indigenous minorities, people who inject drugs, prisoners, sex workers, migrants and refugees – the list goes on.
16 years ago I heard the same stories of rejection, violence, intolerance, anger and desperation. It is simply unacceptable that this state of affairs is continuing – and in some countries – deteriorating.
Looking to the future
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, I leave Durban with a renewed sense of vigour and determination. VSO is committed to addressing gender and inclusion in all our programmes. Our work in across the board reflects this and is something to be proud of.
The challenge before us all is to ask ourselves – who are we still ignoring? Who are we still failing to reach? We still need to work tirelessly to ensure that – in line with the Global Goals and in the name of universal human rights – we truly leave no-one behind in whatever we do and wherever we work.
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