World AIDS Day, 01 December, is observed in order to show support for people living with HIV and those who have lost their lives because of AIDS.
This year, the theme for world AIDS day is “End inequalities. End AIDS”. For the year 2021, the World Health Organisation is calling on global leaders and citizens to rally and confront inequalities in societies in order to fight the AIDS pandemic. The intention is to reach people who do not have access to essential HIV services.
You may wonder why this theme? What do inequalities have to do with AIDS?
Inequalities serve to aid in the spread of AIDS and other pandemics around the world. Tackling inequalities is an essential step in order to advance the human rights of key populations and people who are living with HIV. The efforts in ending inequalities make societies better prepared to beat HIV, COVID-19 and other pandemics, as well as to support the economic recovery and stability of each country. It stands to reason that tackling inequalities will aid to save millions of lives and will benefit society as a whole.
In South Africa, there are structural inequalities that perpetuate the HIV pandemic, which now sits at a reported 7.7 million people living with HIV today, with women accounting for the majority of new infections.
Structural gender inequality, discrimination, violence against women and girls and unequal gender norms continue to undermine efforts by women and girls to prevent HIV infections and the use of HIV/AIDS preventative services. There is a wealth of knowledge as well as tools in the fight against AIDS, however inequalities obstruct proven solutions to HIV prevention and treatment.
In order to improve on the above statistics, there needs to be concerted efforts to eliminate inequalities which more often than not lead to violence, harassment and other crimes against humanity. For example, the statistics for rape and sexual assaults (a major contributing factor to HIV infections) provide an indication of the dire situation that affects us all. The South African Police Services’ (SAPS) statistics for reported rape cases for the year 2019/2020 is 42 289 and for sexual assault 7 749.
Poverty has been cited as a major factor in the prevalence of HIV. The low status accorded to women across various communities, as well as Gender-Based Violence (GBV), place women at greater risk of being infected with HIV. Low educational levels also have a major impact regarding how the virus and all risk factors surrounding it are perceived.
The stigma that is attached to the virus remains rife, mainly due to lack of access to information and possibly even the comprehension of the information once received. It is therefore imperative that men are involved in the conversations and initiatives to end inequalities and prevent GBV, which in turn will have a major impact on reducing the prevalence of HIV.
The above does not in any way take away from the progress that South Africa has had with regards to the prevention and elimination of HIV/AIDS. There are a number of notable nods that indicate that we are on the right track:
Despite the good progress achieved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, there still exists room for improvement.
South Africa and the world at large has a number of initiatives aimed at providing education regarding the transmission of HIV, the treatment and the prevention thereof. These initiatives and the policies on which they are based are well known. However, as with any pandemic, a one sided approach to addressing HIV/AIDS will not succeed. The scientific and the education and awareness programmes need further support.
These initiatives and policies will not succeed:
There needs to be a different angle to address the factors that perpetuate the prevalence of the virus, this involves addressing all inequalities such as GBV and gender inequality, towards improving our current HIV statistics.
This World Aids Day let us all join hands to end inequalities in order to advance the fight against HIV/AIDS!