Sunday 1 December marks World AIDS Day, a day to highlight the importance of the fight against AIDS and HIV. At Health Poverty Action we believe in taking a comprehensive approach to improving health and tackling the root causes as well as the symptoms. It's not about aid and charity, it's about justice and politics. It is important that global measures to tackle HIV and AIDS go beyond just distributing condoms and providing clean needles, although these are important, and address the social determinants that fuel the spread of HIV and AIDS.
At present there are more than 35 million people in the world who are living with HIV. Whilst new HIV infection rates have fallen by 33% since 2001, there were still 2.3 million new infections and 1.6 million HIV related deaths in 2012. Current prevention methods are inadequate with new HIV infections rising faster than people acquiring treatment in many countries.
Gender inequality, stigma, discrimination and poverty all help drive the spread of HIV in many communities. Equally powerful can be the culture of silence around sex in many countries. The failure to tackle this stigma and discrimination has meant that prevention programmes often don't reach those who are most at risk. These problems are often compounded by practical constraints, including limited funding, not enough condoms and limited or unreliable supplies of drugs.
More must be done to address the political, social and economic injustices which perpetuate vulnerability to HIV.
Health Poverty Action is working to strengthen communities in Siuna, in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, where a network of young people are doing incredible work to address HIV and AIDS, including spreading the word about the dangers of unprotected sex and sharing needles. We also help strengthen local people who are engaging with schools and church leaders to address HIV and AIDS, building networks of support and adding weight to campaigns to tackle the beliefs and behaviour which put people at risk.
Whilst there is much great news in the fight against HIV and AIDS, there is still a significant gap of $3-5billion dollars annually in the funding needed to turn the tide against AIDS. Wealthy countries have not yet met their pledges and responsibilities to plug this funding gap for prevention and treatment.
What is absolutely crucial is that HIV/AIDS funding is used in ways that strengthen national health systems. This means health care that is accessible, accountable, culturally appropriate, and free. It means more clinics and hospitals and more trained health workers integrated and within comprehensive health systems so that all can realise their right to health.