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2017 WORLD AIDS CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED

By Samkelo Mahlalela | 2017-11-16

The 2017 World AIDS Campaign/ World AIDS Day launch took a different turn when the Minister of Health, Honourable Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane launched the campaign at the Hope House in Manzini on Monday, October 31.

Honourable Ndlela-Simelane expressed her gratefulness to the WAC organising committee for their innovative approach of focussing services to the people. Indeed, there could have been no better place to launch the campaign with a difference, that will culminate in the national commemoration of World AIDS Day (WAD).

Hope House is a care-home for terminally ill patients, including those with HIV and AIDS-related illnesses,that was initiated by the late Catholic Bishop, Ncamiso Ndlovu in 2001 - as part of the church’s CARITAS programme.

The centre, which has been receiving government subvention since 2014, serves as a half-way house between hospital and home for those in need. Services provided include psychosocial and spiritual services, which are offered through the provision of a quiet environment, palliative care, dietary advice, counselling and Christian companionship.

‘Likhaya Lematsemba’ as it is known, indeed offers hope for many a terminally ill patient as they battle through disease.

The minister stated that launching WAC/WAD 2017 at Hope House instead of a hotel (as has been the case in previous years) ensures that the AIDS commemoration event embraces and responds to the needs of communities.

She noted that World AIDS Day is held on December 1, each year to provide an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV; show their support for people living with HIV; and to commemorate people who have passed on from AIDS-related illnesses.

Awareness

First held in 1988, WAD provides an opportunity to raise awareness around the HIV epidemic across the world and in the different communities.  The WAD commemoration offers a key opportunity for health organisations to increase awareness among people, of possible access to available treatment opportunities, as well as to discuss HIV preventive options.

To strengthen the WAD, and improve it from a one-day commemoration, the World AIDS Campaign (an international coalition of HIV and AIDS groups and networks) was launched by the UNAIDS in the year 1997, to focus on the AIDS programmes, better communications, disease prevention and disease awareness learning for the whole year.

This essentially gave birth to the World AIDS Campaign /World AIDS Day (WAC/WAD) for which every year, a theme is provided as a guide to common global agenda that countries and organisations should strive to achieve within that campaign. Importantly, countries also have the leeway to interpret the themes in their own ways.

From 2011 to 2015, the international theme for World AIDS Day was 'Getting to zero': Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS related deaths. In 2016, it changed to ‘Hands-up for HIV prevention’. In 2017, the UNAIDS has provided ‘Right to Health’. The right to health is the right of everyone for enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This includes the rights of people living with and affected by HIV, to prevention and treatment of ill health, to make decisions about one’s own health and to be treated with respect and dignity and without discrimination.

The right to health theme is aimed at highlighting opportunities to leverage rights-based practices and behaviours to achieve more rapid and sustainable progress towards universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals which include the target to end AIDS globally by 2030.

Recognition

However, in a break from the norm, the country’s HIV response stakeholders have opted for ‘Ending AIDS Together’ as the theme for the WAC/WAD 2017. This is in recognition of the country’s agenda to end AIDS by 2022, as directed by His Majesty King Mswati III. The right to health is included as part of four   focus areas for action, in the campaign that seek s to persuade that “everyone counts” in the last push to end AIDS.

The WAC/WAD 2017 the focus is on celebrating the strides made in our HIV response, and  at the same time, call for action towards the last push for an AIDS-free Swaziland.

 Locally, the achievements in the drop of  almost half in new HIV infections, which was cut by 44 per cent  from 2.5 per cent in 2011 to 1.4 per cent; A stable HIV prevalence at 32 per cent of the adult population aged 18-49; and the doubling of viral load suppression among PLHIV from 35 per cent to 73 per cent).

Also, Swaziland has formally adopted the 90.90.90 fast-track targets as a yardstick for measuring performance towards ending AIDS. In 2016, the country saw remarkable progress towards achieving these targets. There were 85 per cent of all people living with HIV diagnosed, 87 per cent  of all people with diagnosed HIV infection on treatment, and 92 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy, virally suppressed.

In launching the WAC/WAD 2017, Minister of Health, Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane stated that ‘Ending AIDS Together’ urges us to look closely at the factors that make us individually and socially vulnerable to acquiring HIV, from a physical and mental standpoint. This she said means an examination of the social determinants of health – reduction of stigma, access to health, involvement of all communities, and increasing of resources for funding the response.

Discrimination

“In order to end AIDS together successfully, we have to fight the disease and its symptoms. We have to fight stigma and discrimination… we have to fight poverty… we have to fight inequality, in terms of human rights and economic opportunity” noted Minister Ndlela-Simelane.

To end AIDS together, we should be smart. We need to invest in basic HIV prevention, but also appreciate and understand the scientific evidence that demonstrates treatment as prevention. There is need to ensure that no-one is left behind, and all people, especially young people, understand how to protect themselves from acquiring HIV – alongside our moral obligation to provide comprehensive sexual health and reproductive services to our young people. The objective of WAC/WAD 2017 is to increase awareness on the agenda (roadmap) to eliminate new HIV infections and End AIDS by 2022, as well as to call for action, commitment and unity to the elimination of the new HIV infections and ending AIDS, where the general population and all stakeholders play a role towards achieving the objectives.

Therefore, WAC/WAD 2017 will offer space for people to express their views on what they think needs to be done to end AIDS by 2022 and encourage acommitment to action.

The regional activities kick-off today   with the Manzini Region Commemo-ration to be held at Mhlambanyatsi Inkhundla, in which the Honourable Owen Nxumalo (Minister of Public Service) will be the guest speaker.

This will be followed by the Hhohho Regional Commemoration to be held at Ndzingeni Inkhundla tomorrow to be officiated by Minister of Commerce and Trade Jabulani Mabuza, as guest speaker.

The Lubombo region will have their commemoration Hlane Inkhundla, on Saturday, November 25, with Honourable Phineas Magagula (Minister  of Education) as guest speaker. The Right Honourable Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland, His Excellency Dr Sibusiso Dlamini will officiate at the National World AIDS Day Commemoration to be held on Friday, December 1, at Sigwe Inkhundla in the Shiselweni region.

 For the country to end AIDS as a public health threat, everyone counts. There is need to ensure that there are no barriers to people effectively preventing HIV or gaining access to treatment and care.

No one should be denied access to services because of their age, gender, sexual orientation or HIV status. People should not be deterred from carrying condoms in a bid to protect themselves, by fear of partner violence or criminalisation. They should not be held back from knowing their HIV status by fear of stigma and discrimination.

The WAC/WAD 2017 campaign is offering space for people to express their views on what needs to be done to end AIDS, and how we can, together, ensure that we realise the dream for an AIDS-free Swaziland. Let no one be left behind. Act now!

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