All countries have committed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This includes the commitment to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat. Yet with just 11 years to go, it is a mixed picture.
In many countries, great progress continues to expand access to HIV treatment and prevention options that are, in turn, reducing AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections. But there are still far too many countries where AIDS-related deaths and new infections are not decreasing fast enough, even rising in some cases, even though we know how to stop the virus.
So why are some countries doing so much better than others? The clue is in the title of the United Nations’ UNAIDS new report, “Communities at the center”.
Success is being achieved where policies and programs focus on people, not diseases, and where communities are fully engaged from the outset in designing, shaping and implementing health approaches that respond to the way people actually live their lives. This is how real and lasting change is achieved, reducing the devastating impact of AIDS, and reaching better health outcomes for all.
Adopting the latest research and medical knowledge, strong political leadership and reducing stigma and discrimination are all crucial. But without sustained investment in community responses led by people living with HIV and those most affected, countries will not gain the traction necessary to reach the most vulnerable, which is the only way to end the AIDS epidemic.
Community services play varying roles. They often support fragile public health systems, filling critical gaps; they come from and connect effectively with key populations such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, or transgender people; they provide services that bolster clinic-based care and they extend the reach of health services into the community at large. They also hold decision makers to account.
By signing the 2016 UN Political Declaration on Ending AIDS, countries affirmed the critical role that communities play in advocacy, participation in the coordination of AIDS responses and service delivery. Moreover, they recognized community responses to HIV must be scaled up and committed to at least 30 percent of services being community-led by 2030.
Most countries are nowhere near reaching that commitment and where investment in communities is most lacking, there is often weaker progress being made against HIV and other threats.
All over the world, including in Indonesia, communities are demonstrating time and again that they can, and do, deliver results.
For example, Positive Indonesia Network (JIP) advocates for the strengthening of the national HIV response, provides paralegal trainings for community members, and provides hotline counseling services which refer people to clinics for testing and treatment. Indonesia AIDS Coalition is another community organization that advocates for improved HIV responses, including by advocating for sustainable HIV financing by having allocated budget for HIV programs at regency level.
Our communities are a source of strength with so much untapped potential. Unleashing it is the key to gaining the momentum to make faster progress towards reaching the UNAIDS Fast-Track targets and getting every country on the right path to end AIDS.
The writer is interim executive director of UNAIDS.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.