“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”
As we reflect on this powerful African proverb 40 years after the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis, it is important to ask ourselves if we are indeed equitably marching together towards ending the epidemic for all.
It is hard not to have mixed feelings regarding the progress made so far towards ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We certainly must celebrate all the progress made throughout the years, but it is also necessary to look at the existing inequities in health and access to lifesaving services. HIV epidemics continue to grow in countries and communities where the benefits of science and human rights are still not reaching those being left behind. AIDS is still one of the deadliest pandemics of our times: despite global commitment to reduce AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections to fewer than 500 000 by the end of 2020, 680 000 people were lost to AIDS-related illnesses last year and 1.5 million people were newly infected with HIV . Our access to essential health services should not be restricted by where we are born nor by our current circumstances. In fact, some groups of people are more affected by HIV/AIDS because of social determinants of health like poverty, unequal access to health care, lack of education, stigma, and racism.
We have never been more mindful of the need to unite our efforts and raise awareness of the plight of the many Africans affected by HIV. On World AIDS Day, we hear the call for an urgent end to the inequalities that fuel AIDS and other global pandemics.
We risk missing the 2030 target for ending AIDS, a COVID-19 pandemic and a spiraling social and economic crisis if we do not act boldly against inequalities and inequities. Not that a lack of knowledge or tools to defeat AIDS is holding the world back, but structural inequalities that prevent proven solutions for HIV prevention and treatment.
Communities and civil society in Africa, GFAN Africa’s secretariat, WACI Health, have seen first-hand how we can collaborate and invite exhorts everyone to join the fight to get back on track to end AIDS, by continuing increasing visibility and identifying the inequalities that largely determine who has access to HIV services that meet their needs, who is experiencing HIV transmission and who is dying. Then continue advocating to adapt the AIDS response to prioritize programs, laws, policies and services that will best empower those still being left behind and eliminate those inequalities 1
As we commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1st, 2021, we also call on you to join us and ignite a flame of hope for all humanity to end the AIDS epidemic once and for all. By lighting a candle for World AIDS Day, you bring hope and shed light on all that must be done to eradicate HIV infections in our communities, countries, and continent. Our unified efforts and collaboration will tell the world that we are standing strong and fighting HIV head-on because as Elizabeth Nyamayaro reminds us: “If one of us is unwell, then none of us is well.”
Together, we can end AIDS. Let’s work together to make an impact.