Saturday, November 30, 2013

African Development Bank aims at zero HIV in Africa

AfDB president, Donald Kaberuka
Africa has made significant progress in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the past seven years, AIDS-related deaths declined by 32%.The number of people contracting the HIV infection declined by 25% in the past 10 years. The rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV has also declined from 35% in 2001 to 26% in 2010. Ten years ago, we had fewer than 50,000 people on ARV treatment; today we have over 6 million receiving treatment. A few years ago, Senegal and Uganda were the only success stories for their outstanding results and containment of HIV; now we have 25 countries that lowered HIV infections by more than 50%. A lot has been achieved; however, the risks are far from over. Indeed, new infections are a threat. It is time to raise, not to lower our vigilance.

Recall, 30 years ago, when the first HIV-positive case was reported; 24 million Africans have lost their lives. Africa still bears the heaviest burden of the disease globally and accounts for 91% of the world’s children with HIV, 89% of HIV orphans and 69% of people living with HIV. Each day, 3,500 Africans die of AIDS and millions of others and their families and communities go through economic, psychological and social traumas. HIV-related stigma still hurts people, in society, in their workplaces and homes. Women in Africa are more severely affected than men. In 2012, 58% of people living with HIV were women.

HIV/AIDS continues to have a huge detrimental impact on the most important resource of our continent: our people. It robs the continent of vitally needed skilled workers and deprives families of their incomes. It has hampered our ability to educate and build our human capital. Kenya lost an estimated 1.7% of its teachers between 2000 and 2010 due to HIV/AIDS.

For the African Development Bank, in partnership with governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector, the future of HIV/AIDS agenda is about ‘getting to zero’. Zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. Getting there is not easy and the Bank aims to support African countries to, first, take ownership of the AIDS response. It is time for Africa to take bold steps to reduce dependence on external donors and work towards more sustainable domestic solutions. According to UNAIDS, Africa will require between US $11 billion and $12 billion for its AIDS response by 2015. Yet international funding to HIV is dwindling, putting our progress at risk.

Second, the Bank supports African countries in increasingly applying ‘value for money’ and ‘solidarity’ principles to strengthen social systems. The way HIV resources are mobilized and spent needs to change. The vertical approach may no longer be appropriate and cost-effective in many contexts. There is a need to mainstream AIDS-related services into the general healthcare delivery systems and to support the local production of ARVs.

Third, the Bank supports the building of inclusive health systems to fight stigma and discrimination. Let us all tackle stigma and discrimination by building a supportive and caring culture both in their communities and workplaces. We cannot leave the victims of HIV/AIDS and their families behind.

Finally, the Bank, through its inclusive growth agenda, aims to support the reduction of women’s increased vulnerability and prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. Addressing the gender dimension is an important priority in the response to the epidemic. Recent progress suggests that the solutions are in our hands. 

We can reduce gender inequalities by empowering women with information and services to prevent and treat HIV. Strategies to counter and manage gender-based violence can be effectively included in HIV-prevention programs. Effective treatment to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission now needs to be scaled up and made accessible to those who need them, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Training health workers to provide gender-friendly counseling and services must also be prioritized. Most importantly, we need to sensitize men and elicit their involvement to create a supportive environment for reducing women’s vulnerabilities to the epidemic.

Getting to zero starts with us. It is time for Bank staff to take care of themselves and their families by taking advantage of HIV/AIDS services the Bank’s Medical Centre provides. These include Anonymous Voluntary Confidential Counseling and testing available to all Bank staff and their families.

I also want to stress that the African Development Bank is a workplace of zero discrimination and that we must support each other in our communities and workplace. Our fight to get to zero is producing results. Let’s continue in order to give the next generation of Africans – our children, our sons and daughters -- an AIDS-free life ahead. Zero has a value!

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