World AIDS Day 2017 – The Right to Health

World AIDS Day is a time to celebrate the achievements that have been made in the global HIV response and to rally support for ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. UNAIDS reports that by June 2017, 20.9 million people living with HIV were on treatment in comparison to the year 2000, when only 685 000 people were on treatment. This scale-up in treatment has resulted in a 48% decline in deaths from AIDS-related causes.

While there is much to celebrate, it is not a time for complacency as the rate in decline of new infections is not keeping up to pace with the Fast-Track targets to reduce new infections to less than 500 000 a year by 2020. Global prevention targets are not being met, and every day 5 000 people are infected with HIV (UNAIDS). Additionally, one in three people living with HIV do not know their status, meaning that they are not accessing treatment. There is also very high prevalence amongst key populations that include sex workers and men who have sex with men. Often stigma and discrimination make it difficult for them to access health care and prevention services.

SWHAP joins UNAIDS and the rest of the world in commemorating World AIDS Day under the theme, “My Health, My Right”. The theme highlights the importance of removing barriers to accessing health care for all people including those living with HIV.

A 2015 report issued by the World Health Organization, revealed that 400 million people lacked access to essential health services and that 6% in low-and middle-income countries were pushed into extreme poverty because of health care spending. In 2016, global leaders acknowledged the importance of universal access to health care for sustainable development when they signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under SDG 3 they pledged to scale-up efforts to provide universal health coverage for their citizens by 2030.

Universal health coverage is based on the conviction that health is a human right and that everyone should have access to affordable quality health care. UNAIDS has said that “ensuring accessible, acceptable, available and good quality health services is a core principle of the right to health and is at the centre of the AIDS response”. Without universal access to quality health care millions of people die each year and preventable diseases including (AIDS) continue to negatively impact families and communities.

Providing universal health coverage is an ambitious promise with many challenges, for example, financing, skilled labour shortages and poor supply chain and management systems. But where there is political will, it will be possible to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to good quality affordable healthcare.

For Africa, this is critically important as more than half of the global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to happen there. “Of the additional 2.4 billion people projected to be added to the global population between 2015 and 2050, 1.3 billion will be added in Africa” (esa.un.org). Ensuring access to affordable and quality health care for all is critical to this growing population as well as for the control and prevention of HIV and non-communicable diseases that are threatening the continent’s development.

This World AIDS Day we would like to celebrate our partners who are working tirelessly through their workplace HIV and wellness programmes to reduce barriers to accessing health care services for employees and communities in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year over 100 companies were at various stages of implementing rights-based HIV and AIDS policies that provided protection against discrimination for over 27 000 employees, as well as opportunities for HIV and biometric screening with treatment, care and support services for those in need. Through workplace programmes, 13 000 family members and people from key populations had access to either information on health, condoms or opportunities to establish their HIV status.

We also recognise unions and employer’s organisations, who are helping small and medium enterprises to proactively prevent and manage HIV and AIDS in this region. Download our 2016/2017 annual report to read more about these important initiatives.

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