United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon has called on governments to ensure universal access to treatment at the 21st International AIDS conference in Durban. Mr Ban warned of an immediate need for more action to avoid backsliding on progress made to date.
“To end this epidemic, we must close all the gaps that keep people from accessing services and living with dignity among people living with HIV, gay men, men who have sex with men, transgender, sex workers, people who inject drugs and prisoners. When we do this we can end stigma and discrimination,” Mr Ban said during the AIDS 2016 opening press conference on 18 July.
He added that although there has been huge progress, 20 million people still do not have access to treatment and 13 million people do not get the care they deserve.
“Today, some countries have more babies born without HIV but many children living with HIV still lack treatment. I call for Durban 2016 to mark the commitment for a new era, when we finish what we started. The era of fast-track response,” he said.
Barriers to treatment
Key speakers and scientists have also highlighted how discriminatory laws continue to put up barriers to the people who are most at risk of HIV accessing prevention and treatment services.
They emphasised that the world will not achieve the global goal of ending AIDS by 2030 when new prevention tools, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), remain out of reach to people in need.
In many parts of the world those who are most vulnerable to HIV –including transgender people, men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who inject drugs – continue to face legal discrimination and human rights violations. Countries such as Uganda and Kenya, which criminalise these groups, have come under the spotlight.
Carolyn Njoroge, a sex worker from Kenya, said the most vulnerable people have been left behind in the HIV response.
“The reason why there is high prevalence among the key populations [those most at risk of HIV] is due to the nature of the surrounding environment, the stigma and discrimination that they face from the society at large and violence that goes unreported,” she said.
“In Kenya, for example, the number of people who inject drugs and are affected by HIV now stands at 18.7 per cent, 1.8 million people live with HIV and prevalence is at six per cent.”
Dr Michael Kirago, the leader of a project in Kenya that targets men who have sex with men and young sex workers, pointed out that there was need to include more community voices in the AIDS response.
“From the point when we started in 2013, up to where we are currently, it has been the community voices that have enabled our work,” he said.
The International AIDS conference was last held in Durban in 2000. This was credited as a defining moment in the history of the HIV response because it helped in bringing life-saving HIV treatment to developing countries. It remains to be seen whether AIDS 2016 will have an equally important legacy and if the global goal to end AIDS by 2030 can be accomplished.