By H.E. Joyce Banda, the former President of Malawi
This year the World AIDS Day will be commemorated under the theme: Right to Health. The right to health was first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), whose preamble states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” The advent of HIV and AIDS has threatened this right to health on many fronts. To start with the burden of disease due to the HIV and AIDS and the allied tuberculosis epidemic and other related infectious diseases, has risen. Secondly, Africa has lost thousands of health professionals over the years as a result of AIDS. The deaths amongst human resources for health, coupled with the impact of workload of HIV and AIDS has had a profound adverse impact on overburdened and overstressed health workers as well as the already beleaguered health system.
An area of particular concern, which has become more pronounced since the advent of AIDS, is when a member of a family, especially the head of household has a serious acute or chronic health problem. Many poor families use all their resources to fund care in these catastrophic situations. This results in poor access to health care for the rest of the family members in addition to confining a whole generation to a vicious cycle of poverty.
It is, therefore, the role of every country to ensure that the right to health is not compromised. In order to sustain the national HIV and AIDS response without compromising Universal Health Coverage, governments need to put HIV prevention at the centre of National HIV and AIDS Strategies. This will ensure that the number of new HIV infections in reduced if not virtually eliminated. Today there we have the tools we need to end HIV and AIDS especially considering that the AIDS epidemic has been transformed from a deadly disease to a chronic illness. Prevention of Maternal to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) has been simplified with the introduction of Option B+ where all pregnant and breastfeeding women are put on ART irrespective of their CD4 count while the adoption of the Test and Treat, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP), Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and Treatment as Prevention (TasP) policies mean that we are at the door steps of an HIV free Generation. Governments, however, still needs to do more work on pediatric HIV and AIDS.
As we commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day, I call upon all governments and peoples of Africa to ensure that the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS are respected and that we leave no one behind. This will ensure that all people of Africa who need HIV and AIDS services can access them without fear of being stigmatized or discriminated.