The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has been one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges since it was first reported in 1981. So the news that the world could be completely free from this epidemic by 2030 is indeed cheering. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has said that the world was headed for a “generation free of AIDS”. This declaration followed the 2014 report of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) which indicated a 35 per cent drop in new HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS) infections from the level it was 15 years ago. The UN agency had announced in November 2014 that taking a fast-track approach over the next five years would allow the world to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The agency, however, cautions that if the AIDS scourge is not broken for good in the next five years through the fast-track approach, the world would risk the epidemic rebounding out of control.
We commend UNAIDS and all other stakeholders on the sustained efforts to combat HIV/ AIDS considering the threat the disease poses to global health. Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that since the beginning of the epidemic 34 years ago, about 78 million people have been infected and about 39 million people have died of the scourge. Current statistics indicate that about 36 million people globally are still living with HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region worst hit with 25.8 million people living with HIV, accounting for more than 71 per cent of the global figure, as against five million people living with HIV in Asia. Nigeria with 3.4 million people living with the virus has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, only behind Swaziland. South Africa still maintains the lead in terms of actual figures with 6.3 million people living with HIV.
Nevertheless we are optimistic that the goal can be met going by the rate of decline in new infections. For instance, new infections declined to two million in 2014 from 3.1 million, 14 years ago. We are worried, however, that the figures for Africa are still startling and this calls for urgent attention if the quest for an AIDS free world by 2030 is to be achieved. South Africa, Swaziland, Nigeria and other countries slowing down the global efforts may need to redesign their strategy for combating and preventing the spread of HIV, particularly among children, pregnant women and other vulnerable members of the society.
It is important to investigate thoroughly how funds meant to tackle the scourge have been applied over the years. It would be recalled that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had established severe cases of fraud against many African countries in their use of funds earmarked for HIV/AIDS control, thus raising doubts over the commitment of these countries to the HIV/AIDS crusade. Governments must ensure accountability and transparency in the application of donor funds. If this is not done, and urgently too, the dream of a world free of AIDS by 2030 will remain a mirage.
A lot of resources will be required to achieve the goal. Sub-Saharan Africa for instance is said to require the largest share of global AIDS financing, put at $19.4 billion in 2020. With many of the countries in this category classified as poor countries, it is clear that they will continue to need international support to enhance access to anti-retroviral drugs and other services. Many countries in the uppermiddle- income category are already financing most of their AIDS responses from their domestic public sources.
Beyond access to ART, there should be a sustained campaign for the use of condom and behaviour change as this would help lower rates of transmission. It is important for people to know their HIV status but this is not the case as most people are ignorant of their HIV status. Governments should, therefore, devise programmes to make their citizens embrace HIV testing as this will help to determine appropriate response to the HIV/ AIDS scourge. We shares the vision of a world free of AIDS by 2030 and urge all governments to demonstrate the political will to achieve the goal.