World AIDS DAY –- building on African progress

The following excerpts come from a piece published today in the Mail and Guardian by our Africa Director, Dr. Sipho Moyo. In the piece, she outlines how Africans and the global community should scale up and improve efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. — Erin Hohlfelder

“The 2010 World Cup was a moment of great pride for all Africans. It provided an opportunity to show the world the incredible progress that has been achieved across the continent and demonstrated the unyielding spirit of optimism that is quintessentially African. Today on World AIDS Day, we should similarly take stock of the progress and how far we have come in the fight against this deadly disease. Less than a decade ago… fewer than 50,000 Africans were receiving life-saving antiretroviral treatment. Now, thanks in part to programs such as the Global Fund and the strong commitment of our governments, nearly 4 million Africans—enough to fill Soccer City Stadium more than 44 times—are able to access the treatment they need to live longer, more productive lives. “

“There is a grave threat to this progress: a global recession that has tightened the budgets of African and donor governments alike. The tremendous gains we’ve made over the last decade in the fight against HIV/AIDS are now in jeopardy, and recent global financial meetings in Canada and New York have shown that even donors who understand the importance of global health investments are seeing aid budgets increasingly squeezed. So what does this mean for Africans and African leaders? To maintain progress, we must continue to insist on the resources needed to keep our people alive, while at the same time taking a very hard look at how we can do even better with what we have.“

“We must improve prevention. The promise of treatment for everyone living with AIDS cannot be fulfilled until we slow substantially the rate of new infections. Funding must be focused on interventions that are proven to be effective and are targeted to those who are most at risk. Additionally, we now have the tools to virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, so there is no excuse in 2010 other than our own inaction for children being born HIV positive.“

“We must improve governance and transparency. Even with all the resources and good intentions, programmes will only be successful if they are well managed and citizens are fully informed and engaged. Primary responsibility lies with our Ministries of Health and of Finance who must work together to prioritize domestic spending for HIV/AIDS; and to report on where the funds are going and what results they are producing. Where external aid is utilized, our leaders at all levels need to get tough on criminals who try to siphon off resources for AIDS treatment, and work in partnership with donors and civil society to ensure that our in-country capacity to track and evaluate funding is as strong as possible.“

“We must make the case for Africa. Far from advocating perpetual donor dependence, but so long as we continue to rely on their assistance to aggressively fight AIDS, it is in our interest to be more vocal about the successes of these funds and how they can be best utilized…It is up to the leaders to partner with civil society to advise donors on such key issues as when integration should be a focus, where clinics are best situated, how cultural practices should influence policy, which local partners are strong. We are our own best advocates, and donors need to hear from us. I hope that we can all make a commitment to fulfilling our responsibilities to help end AIDS in Africa in our lifetime. It will take all of us, working together as one, to make a difference.”