“Will the world witness the end of AIDS by 2030?” questioned Peter Piot, the Lancet journal HIV editor and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Not likely” was his solemn conclusion as the AIDS2016 conference in Durban, South Africa, (18-22 July) drew to a close.
He highlighted sobering new research from the Global Burden of Disease collaborative network, that shows that over the past 10 years, rates of new HIV infections have increased in 74 countries. Meanwhile, globally, new infections fell by only an average of 0.7 per cent per year between 2005 and 2015, compared to the 2.7 per cent drop per year between 1997 and 2005.
The conference was filled with moving, inspirational and energising speeches and presentations from people from all walks of life, ranging from high ranking government and civil society officials, donors, people living with HIV, sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender, people who inject drugs, people with disability, young and the elderly, doctors, researchers among others. For all the speakers who made the same promise; “to end AIDS by 2030”, Dr Piot`s question is likely to reverberate in their minds.
A lot of resources in money, time and energy were used to make the 21st International AIDs conference a success. I was present, you were present; all of us were present and we are a testimony of what transpired, 16 years after Durban last hosted the International AIDS conference, when similar promises were made; “to end AIDS by 2030”.
At the United Nations General Assembly this year, world leaders committed themselves to the 2030 target. How will this be made possible? Who will make it possible? Who will be held accountable in 2030 if AIDS does not come to end? Will civil society or world leaders across the globe accept to shoulder the shame? Or will they find another excuse to shift the goalpost from 2030 to another “convenient time”? Posterity will judge all of us harshly.
The youth and adolescents both living with HIV and those who have lost their loved ones to the epidemic who where a central theme of AIDS2016 would have grown up by 2030. They will surely be at the driving seat and will be demanding answers as to why the world has not lived up to its promise should the international community fail them in meeting the target.
But is this really an achievable goal? It is possible if all the respective institutions both in governments, civil society, researchers and the affected people keep the fire burning by making the issue of HIV central in their plans and routine activities. This means committing sufficient resources to the AIDS response, ending discrimination of vulnerable groups and tackling corruption that sees precious resources swindled away.
While the AIDS 2000 conference in Durban was credited as a defining moment in the history of HIV, because it helped in bringing life-saving HIV treatment to developing counties, it remains to be seen whether it will be possible to accomplish the global goal which has been set by world leaders to end AIDS by 2030.