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African Leaders partner UNAIDS, PEPFAR to end AIDS, respond to pandemics

by Haruna Gimba

By Zayamu Hassan

Leaders of African governments have collaborated with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and global health partners to sustain political leadership to end AIDS and respond to future pandemics

The head of African governments made the commitment to end HIV/AIDS in the continent, at a side- event at the high-level week of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The leaders who spoke through the African health ministers, joined the UNAIDS, PEPFAR, global health institutions and partners in New York, United States in rallying to sustain their commitments to end AIDS and accelerate their response to current and future pandemics.

The high-level side event on “Political Leadership in the HIV Response,” highlighted continued progress on combating HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been largely sustained despite the added challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was co-organized by UNAIDS and PEPFAR.

Speaking at the side-event, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, highlighted the need for governments to pick up the pace to end AIDS in Africa. “This is a fantastic convening of leaders who will play a key role in ending AIDS in Africa,” said Dr Moeti.

“With HIV, we have learned many lessons. Inequities continue to be a major factor in driving vulnerability to HIV and access to services. We can make the resources go further and achieve more results for HIV.” 

On his part, the Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Peter Sands, applauded the support to the Global Fund at its 7th Replenishment which mobilized US$ 14.2 billion.

Reading a statement from President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Director of Public Health for Nigeria, Dr Morenike Alex-Okah, highlighted the call to end paediatric AIDS, “I reiterate the Government of Nigeria’s full commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and other international and regional initiatives towards ending AIDS by 2030, and to addressing current and future health emergencies.

Speaking, the United States Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy, Ambassador Dr John Nkengasong, said: “The HIV response has defined global health for 25 years.

“We have made remarkable progress, but we still have remarkable challenges going forward to end AIDS. It is time to ask where we go from here. PEPFAR, the Global Fund and UNAIDS represent the best of humanity when we apply our minds to solving problems.” 

Ambassador Nkengasong also took the opportunity to launch “Reimagining PEPFAR’s Strategic Direction, Fulfilling America’s Promise to End the HIV/AIDS Pandemic by 2030”, which focuses on key priority areas including: health equity for priority populations including children, adolescent girls and young women, and key populations; long term sustainability; positioning platforms to not civil society front and centre; and leading with science. 

African governments were represented by Ministers of Health from Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Malawi, Rwanda and South Africa, and the Director of Public Health from Nigeria, speaking on behalf of H.E. President Buhari, and were joined by H.E. Neo Jane Masisi, the First Lady of Botswana.

The Minister of Health of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jean-Jacques Mbungani, said, “Despite our many challenges, the Government made the fight against HIV a national priority. In one year, we increased our domestic funding for HIV from CDF10 billion to CDF15 billion, and from 2002 to 2020, we decreased AIDS-related mortality by 42 per cent.”

The Minister of Health of Côte d’Ivoire, Mr Pierre Dimba highlighted the importance of integrating lessons from COVID-19 in the HIV response. “The COVID-19 pandemic showed how important it is to invest in health and enhance our focus on HIV,” said Minister Dimba.

Rwanda has been investing in institutional reforms in the health sector and continues to increase its own domestic health funding. “For an effective management of domestic resources, we created the Rwanda biomedical center which has a multifaceted approach,” said Daniel Ngamije, Minister of Health of Rwanda. “Rather than having individual programs for HIV, TB and malaria, we have created and financed a sustainable, integrated system.” 

Senator Lizzie Nkosi, Minister of Health of Eswatini, expressed appreciation of the partnership with donors and technical partners as key to the country’s success in the HIV response. 

Minister Nkosi used the event to announce impressive new results in Eswatini’s efforts to end AIDS. “Today I announce that Eswatini has reached the epidemic control and the 95-95-95 targets,” said Minister Nkosi. “We have committed significant resources for HIV, which we will continue, in spite of COVID-19 and other pandemics. However, we couldn’t have reached this success without PEPFAR, UNAIDS and the Global Fund and so many other partners.”

The Minister of Health of Botswana highlighted the remarkable results Botswana has achieved and recognized the strong continued support of partners in Botswana’s progress to end AIDS.

From South Africa, the country with the world’s largest HIV epidemic, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla called for accelerated momentum to end AIDS, and the urgency of halting HIV incidence, particularly in young people in South Africa.

“We have reduced the incidence of HIV by over 45%, we now have 5.2 million people on HIV treatment, and we launched our HIV strategy with a focus on young people,” said Minister Phaahla. 

Loyce Maturu from the Global Fund Advocates Network in Zimbabwe spoke about gaps in the HIV response. “We know that we haven’t done enough in the management of HIV in children, and to prevent HIV among adolescent girls and young women.

“We have to look at psychosocial support, mental health, and viral load monitoring, which have been missing when it comes to community engagement. We need to focus on HIV management at the community level, empower community-led monitoring, support families and strengthen community systems.” 

Stéphanie Seydoux, France’s Ambassador for Global Health concluded, “The time for implementation starts now. We know the way forward and that is country ownership, country investment.” 

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