STOPAIDS and the APPG on HIV host high-level panel event on HIV and women and girls
Thank you to everyone who came to our panel event this week co-hosted by the APPG on HIV and AIDS on Why an end to AIDS is a crucial step in improving the lives of women and girls.
Our high level panel included Minister of State for International Development Grant Shapps, Deborah L Birx, MD, Ambassador-at-Large and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, Coordinator of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Global HIV/AIDS, Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, Programme, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and Luisa Orza, Director of programmes at the ATHENA network and was chaired by Mike Freer MP.
With AIDS being the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age globally and the biggest killer of adolescent girls in Africa, the aim of our panel discussion was to explore how the international community can scale-up the HIV response to ensure that we end AIDS as public health threat by 2030.
Minister Shapps begun the discussion setting out some of the successes we’ve achieved over the last 30 years: 15 million people on treatment, 1 million babies born without HIV thanks to effective treatment for treatment in the last 5 years and a two thirds reduction in prevalence among children.
He went on to outline the startling situation for women and girls who are disproportionately affected by HIV – “there is a new case of HIV among adolescent girls every 2 minutes”. He mentioned the pressing need for better education and awareness around women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and access to prevention and treatment services. He said ‘1000 new infection among adolescent girls every day is something I think is an urgent crisis and should be tackled.’
Minister Shapps emphasised the need to speed up our efforts to reach the SDG target “I don’t think we’re going anywhere near as fast as we need to be, we’re not going to get to the goals that have been agreed in New York four weeks ago if we do not speed this whole process up to end AIDS by 2030 the goals.
The UK is committed to saving the lives of women and girls by ending the epidemic by 2030..I don’t think as the Minister responsible that this is a job which is done…I think this is a story of today and it’s important that you know that we absolutely intend to re-double our efforts. We need to focus on addressing the gaps and the issues not being addressed.”
Minister Shapps did say that the re-doubling’ wasn’t referring to a funding pledge but he did say that they will continue to be major contributor to the Global Fund which was welcomed.
Our next speaker was Ambassador Deborah Birx from PEPFAR. Ambassador Birx also spoke about the importance of education stating that “girls in school have a prevalence of less than 1% as soon as they are out of school it goes to 10%”.
Ambassador Birx went on to question why we the AIDS epidemic is not more visible:
“I don’t know why this is not on the front page of the newspaper…you cannot get the press to do a story on HIV AIDS yet there is a 1000 new infections every day. 35,000 people will become newly infected and 20,000 deaths this week but we don’t talk about it anymore, it’s invisible, it’s hidden, ..i don’t know if its hidden because we’ve bought into stigma discrimination or it’s hidden because we just want it to be over, but it’s not, but we want to move on to the next thing. But we cannot move on to the next thing until we address this.”
PEPFAR have recently embarked on an initiative, partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and NIKE on the DREAMS programme. DREAMS stands for Determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free mentored and Safe young women – which she states, should be the ‘minimum standards that we want for young women.’
Luisa Orza from the ATHENA network who ensure that gender equality and human rights are at the centre of the AIDS response, talked about the importance of having women at the table making the decisions about how programmes and services can do this effectively on the ground.
Lusia gave us some insightful snippets of interviews that she has conducted as part of her work with young women. She mentioned the problems with a lack of sexual health education through the comments of a young woman from Burundi who said:
‘ I don’t have someone near by me who can answer my questions on birth control, HIV/AIDS, STIs or family planning. The health centre is far from our village, there is no one to SMS to help. Sexual health education is not available in Burundi’
She also talked about the lack of appropriate services for young women using the case study of another young lady from Burundi who had attended a clinic when she fell pregnant to seek help but was met with ‘embarrassing questions’ asked why she ‘wasn’t ashamed’ and how she would feed her baby. This unwelcoming environment dissuaded the young woman from returning to the clinic until she became worried about her child’s health. SRHR services must be tailored to the different needs of different groups if they are going to be successful.
“We have all the tools, 3 decade of knowledge the problem is access to services access to knowledge the problem in one word is exclusion.’ Which is also the message of the SDG’s message of ‘leave no-one behind.’ Luis also spoke about the importance of tackling gender-based violence which is one of the drivers of the epidemic among women.
It was great to hear from the Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS calling on us to ‘bring back the energy’ to the HIV response. He called directly on the UK government saying how political will has been one of the ‘key factors to bringing so much progress to the HIV response’ and remains key.
Luis outlined how this lull in activism could be due a generational problem. Adolescents today were not around in the height of the epidemic, when there was no treatment and HIV was a death-sentence. But he says, ‘we shouldn’t have to have people dying to bring back the mobilisation that we need…but we need to find a new ways to get our message out there.’