On October 4, 2019, Amref Health Africa, Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation and UNAIDS jointly hosted a High Level Meeting to discuss the social, political and structural barriers in HIV prevention and equitable access to health services.
The meeting was convened by H.E Mr Festus Gontebanye Mogae, the third president of Botswana, who is now the new Chancellor for Amref International University and Founder of the Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation, a distinguished group of former presidents and influential African leaders committed to an AIDS-free generation. In attendance were other champions – Vice President of Uganda Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe and Professor Miriam Were, former Chairperson of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council (NACC) among other dignitaries.
The high level meeting aimed at engaging stakeholders in the HIV response to establish follow-up actions that address structural barriers in HIV prevention and access to health services in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA).
‘‘As champions, we are concerned about the growing threats that undermine progress of our countries. We are advocating for increased commitment to fast track the AIDS response in Africa. We need stronger political will and leaders who are determined and put communities at the centre of their strategies,’’ said H.E Mogae in his key note address.
A global public health issue, HIV and related ailments remain the largest killer of adolescent girls in the ESA region, which is the most affected in the world with the highest number of people living with HIV. Disease trends also show that the fight against the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the ESA region is largely leaving behind key populations.
During the meeting, participants who included Members of Parliament, traditional leaders, youth representatives and civil society organisations from East and South African countries gave proposals on measures to address HIV barriers and reverse the trends.
‘‘Rather than working in isolation, HIV prevention requires multi-sector and multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration, including government authorities at all levels not forgetting the people living with HIV who are paramount in this process of working towards an AIDS free generation,’’ said Dr Githinji Gitahi, Amref Health Africa Global CEO.
Other measures that were proposed include: government to increase domestic funding and allocation to HIV prevention and look for initiatives to raise funds for HIV, uphold accountability of resources and integrate AIDS-Free Generation strategies into Universal Health Coverage (UHC) country health agendas; well organised civil society organisations to increase chances of success of their advocacy efforts; HIV project implementers to employ a community-led approach to push for the AIDS-Free generation agenda and educate/create awareness about sexuality, sexual diversity and HIV prevention among key populations, and the general public.
Mr Omari Issa, Chairman of Amref Health Africa International Board noted, ‘‘Community engagement means engaging all stakeholders who have a stake in what you want to do. If you engage the community the positive way, you come up with home-grown rather than prescribed solutions and chances of success are much higher than when you do not work with them.’’
There was consensus among the participants about the role of the private sector in HIV prevention and the need to strengthen Public-Private Partnerships as a way of increasing funding for HIV initiatives.
The participants challenged the lead Champions to enrol community champions working with key populations to push the AIDS-Free Generation Agenda.
East and Southern Africa accounts for 54% of the 20.6 million people living with HIV globally. In 2018, there were 800,000 new HIV infections in the region, slightly under half of the global total. While the region has stepped up its fight against the disease leading to a 28% decline in new HIV infections in 2018 compared to 2010, there is need for sustained commitment by political leaders on HIV prevention, sustainable financing, legal framework around HIV, enhanced partnerships, leadership and accountability.