Photo: Dr. Megh Raj Jagriti, Dignitas International’s Malawi Country Director, displays a message on his hand in support of the UN campaign Hands Up for HIV Prevention on World AIDS Day 2017.
By Dr. Megh Raj Jagriti, Dignitas International’s Malawi Country Director
On World AIDS Day, we join millions of people around the world commemorating the many lives lost to HIV. Today, we also celebrate the progress that has been made in the fight against AIDS. Here are a few of many notable successes
- New HIV infections declined from an average of 3.2 million per year to 2.1 million per year by the end of 2015
- The number of people living with HIV that are currently on live-saving Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) increased from less than a million in 2000 to 18.2 million today
- The cost of treatment has also dropped from US$10,000 a year in 2000, to less than US$100 a year in 2015
- During the same time period, investment in the AIDS response increased from US$5 billion a year in 2000 to US$19 billion in 2015
New data from PEPFAR, a US-government initiative that supports the fight against AIDS, shows for the first time that the epidemic is becoming controlled in older adults and babies in three key African countries – Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. HIV incidence in adults, for example, has seen big declines since 2003, down 51 per cent in Zambia, 67 per cent in Zimbabwe and an impressive 76 per cent in Malawi.
In the South East Zone of Malawi, where Dignitas International works with support from PEPFAR, we’ve implemented a number of different HIV programs and are currently providing life-saving care and treatment to 186,000 people including adults, men, women, adolescents and children living with HIV.
This is good news, but major challenges still remain. A total of 74 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, 35 countries impose HIV-related travel restrictions, and stigma and discrimination are still commonplace. This is unacceptable, and we still have to work hard to ensure that everyone has equal access to barrier-free ART treatment and care.
Funding is another key issue that needs to be addressed. Some estimates suggest that up to US$36 billion a year is needed to reach UN goals to end the epidemic by the 2030. While this might seem far off, we can beat AIDS if we continue to scale up funding over the next 15 years.
AIDS is not over. But from the success I’ve seen first-hand in Malawi and many other countries in the region, we can be on the fast-track to end the epidemic if we so choose. Ending AIDS will be one of the greatest public health victories of our generation, saving millions of lives.