We cannot afford to relax until we end the AIDS epidemic: Festus Mogae

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Former president of Botswana, HE Festus Mogae, and chairperson of the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, shared a panel with other prominent speakers on how to position AIDS in the post-2015 agenda during the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014), in Melbourne, Australia from 20–25 July 2014.

The panel, which also included UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, the Global Fund Executive Director, Mark Dybul, and HIV activist, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, debated on how to secure a global commitment to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

“We have to remain engaged, we should not relax, we cannot afford to,” said HE Festus Mogae. “If we fail to end AIDS by 2030, we will be directly to blame because we have the knowledge and capacity to do so.”

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 70% of the global total of new HIV infections. Although new HIV infections declined by 33% between 2005 and 2013, an estimated 1.5 million new HIV infections occurred in the region. HIV treatment coverage also remains low with only 37% of all people living with HIV accessing treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2013, AIDS-related illnesses claimed the lives of 1.1 million people.

AIDS 2014 gathered representatives from science, government, civil society and the private sector to discuss together at a high global level the most pressing issues linked to the AIDS response. .

HE Festus Mogae is internationally known for his tremendous contribution in stemming the tide of HIV and AIDS in Botswana, one of the countries most affected by the epidemic. He was one of the first heads of state in the world to publically test for HIV. Under his leadership, Botswana became the first African country to provide free antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV. In 2004, he also introduced routine ‘opt-out’ HIV testing, which helped in significantly increasing the number of people who know their status.

“While we do not underestimate the substantial amount of work that has been done…to convert what was a killer disease into a chronic one,” said HE Festus Mogae, “We still have a long way to go. The challenge of HIV and AIDS is still with us.”