The Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Elias Magosi urged countries in the region to take bold measures, including tackling social stereotypes about HIV/AIDS, as a way of eliminating the disease by 2030.
Magosi made the call on Tuesday ahead of the commemoration of World AIDS Day which is marked each year on December 1. The theme for the 2021 commemoration is ‘End Inequalities, End AIDS’.
Magosi singled out gender-based violence as one of the key drivers of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region noting that it required serious attention, particularly in humanitarian and emergency situations.
Magosi also said social and legal barriers to effectively tackling the AIDS epidemic needed to be removed while the most vulnerable populations, like adolescents and young women, needed ready access to comprehensive services.
“Indeed, HIV and AIDS remains the epidemic of inequalities. While the most vulnerable people such as the youth, the less privileged, the poor and key populations continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic, in most countries, the majority of citizens can now access HIV services and lifesaving treatment such as Antiretroviral drugs,” Magosi said.
According to the UN AIDS agency, 30 percent of all new HIV infections occur among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years in Eastern and Southern Africa. A report by the organization last November said that little progress in increasing comprehensive knowledge of HIV among young women in the regions.
Given the dynamic nature of the problem, Magosi added, there needed to be a combination of social, behavioral and biomedical interventions in order to achieve an AIDS-free generation despite the complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last July, UNAIDS warned that the global fight against AIDS had been losing momentum even before the pandemic which was threatening to set back hard-won progress against HIV by at least a decade.
For these interventions to be effective, Magosi said authorities needed to allocate adequate funding to the cause, a call repeatedly made by UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.
“These interventions will not only propel us towards 2030 but will also play a critical role in ring-fencing and protecting the gains made in our collective effort to fight HIV and AIDS in the SADC Region. On this World AIDS Day 2021, I urge all SADC Member States to continue the relentless fight against HIV and AIDS and to ensure that we end inequalities as we move towards ending AIDS,” he added.