Today is World Aids Day, celebrated every December 1 as a call to unity in the fight against HIV/Aids, show support for those who have been diagnosed and to remember those who have been lost to the disease.
The theme for this year is “End inequalities. End Aids. End Pandemics”. It emphasises the need to end inequalities that contribute to the spread of HIV/Aids.
That calls for reflection on what has been achieved this far — many campaigns, conferences and slogans later — in the fight against the spread of the disease.
On Monday, the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) issued a stark warning that if leaders fail to tackle inequalities, the world could face 7.7 million Aids-related deaths over the next 10 years. It further warned that if the transformative measures needed to end Aids are not taken, the world will also stay trapped in the Covid-19 crisis and remain dangerously unprepared for pandemics.
There were close to 1.5 million new HIV infections last year — more than 4,000 cases daily. While this is a reasonable reduction from the nearly three million cases in 1997, the number is still high. And a big proportion of these was in a few countries.
For instance, a few years ago, UNAIDS reported that over sixty per cent of new HIV infections were in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The HIV situation has been worsened by the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. Experts have warned that people living with HIV are more likely to have higher comorbidities from the coronavirus. This places people living with HIV at a disadvantage.
By the end of last year, nearly 40 million were living with HIV. Considering that many do not know their HIV status, preventive measures must be taken seriously. Strict adherence to the ‘ABC’ approach has been recommended as helping to lower infections in many countries.
Viewed through a simple lens, the ABC approach means people should practise abstinence until marriage and be faithful once married or use condoms if engaging in sex with more than one partner. For sexually active people, then condom use should be prioritised. So, availability of condoms has to be guaranteed.
Global statistics show HIV prevalence has been reducing since 1999. That is attributed to, among other reasons, condom use. Despite the debates and myths on condom use, scientifically verifiable evidence shows over 70 per cent effectiveness if used consistently and appropriately.
Availability and access to condoms should be treated as a basic right. That’s why recent media reports of a shortage of condoms in the country should be of serious concern. It means only a certain class of citizens have access to condoms.
This problem, if not addressed, could easily reverse the gains made so far in the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids.
Jeremiah M. Nganda, Nairobi