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Closing the gap in AIDS response

HIV result.

LILIAN KIEFER
AS WE approach the World AIDS Day on December 1, 2014, it is time to critically reflect on the HIV and AIDS epidemic and the different faces that it bears across the country and southern Africa as a whole.
Addressing a UNAIDS regional consultation meeting on populations left behind, Dr Luiz Loures, the agency’s Deputy Executive Director for Programmes, reminded delegates that HIV and AIDS is the leading cause of death globally and the second leading cause of adolescent deaths in southern  Africa.
The current reflections on addressing HIV and AIDS are geared towards addressing social inequalities that render certain populations more vulnerable to infection than others.
Among people living with HIV, inequalities make certain populations suffer the brunt of the epidemic more than others.
Moving on to the post-2015 agenda, UNAIDS has been advocating closure of the gap in the HIV and AIDS response.
But what does closing the gap mean? In answering this question we look at current progress in the HIV and AIDS response.
Successes have been registered in efforts aimed at lowering the levels of new infections in the general population.
However, in some pockets of the population, the incidence rates remain high. While there are general improvements in knowledge levels and access to services, some populations have been left out.
Why is this the case? Some populations have limited or no access to services, especially services tailored to their needs.
In some cases, while the services have been available, it has been difficult, almost impossible for certain people to access them.
The current response should make deliberate efforts to address these key populations.
In Zambia the identified key populations include: sex workers, adolescents, men who have sex with men, mobile populations among others.
The danger of leaving out certain populations is that they will not be covered by the services, and they will remain vulnerable to HIV infection.
From a human rights perspective, we all fail in our call to take care of each other as provided for by the Constitution and international human rights instruments.
From an HIV and AIDS response point of view, failure to address certain populations means that we will just be going round in circles, particularly for southern Africa where there is a generalised pandemic.
The populations that are not covered will remain vulnerable to the infection and will interact with the general population and the problem will be self-sustaining.
Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has been running projects that address concerns of key populations.
One such is media trainings on equality law and non-discrimination aimed at enabling the media actors to cover and address issues affecting marginalised and discriminated against populations.
PSAf sees the media playing a critical role in calling everyone to account in providing for the needs of all citizens, including key populations.
To sustainably address the epidemic, it is critical to identify and plan for all pockets of our population that host concentrated epidemics.
This is an obligation from a human rights perspective, and it is the only sustainable way to comprehensively address the situation.
This is what closing the gap in the HIV and AIDS response means, ensuring that policies, laws and programmes cover everyone.
In attempting to close the gap, it is critical to analyse the underlying factors behind these gaps.
For instance, what are the factors that render adolescents disproportionately vulnerable to HIV Infection and what are the factors that inhibit them from accessing services?
Are there cultural factors that we should be addressing? Are there economic factors, policy gaps and/or unfavourable laws that should be reviewed?
Business as usual will not help in closing the gaps.
It is crucial to carefully analyse what needs to be done differently in order to close these gaps, and the responsibility to achieve this rests with all of us.
We need to take personal responsibility to do what is right, acknowledging where status-quo is not helping much and mobilising ourselves to make a difference. Only then will we be able to close the gap in the HIV and AIDS response and leave no one behind.
The author is the executive director of PSAf. For feedback, email lilian@panos.org.zm.

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