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Monday, April 15, 2024

Ending AIDS pandemic

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“There are now an estimated 164,400 people living with HIV in the country and 24,400 new infections are estimated to be added in 2022 alone”

The Philippines has a great opportunity to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030 — by letting communities lead.

Communities of people living with HIV or at risk of HIV, the drivers of progress in the AIDS response, connect people to public health services, build trust, innovate, monitor the implementation of policies and services, and hold service providers accountable.

The contribution of the community-led organizations has helped tackle other pandemics and health crises too, including COVID-19, Mpox and Ebola. Letting communities lead builds healthier and stronger societies.

AIDS is far from over.

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Last year, worldwide — 630,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses, 1.3 million people were newly infected with HIV and 9.2 million people did not have access to life-saving HIV treatment.

There are now an estimated 164,400 people living with HIV in the country and 24,400 new infections were estimated added in 2022 alone.

The Philippines has fallen short of the 95-95-95 targets.

It has only diagnosed 63 percent of its diagnosis target, only 62 percent of its enrollment to treatment target and only 25 percent of the viral load suppression target.

Of the estimated number of infected with HIV, there are still 115,873 diagnosed and enrolled in life-saving treatment.

We have the tools to prevent new HIV infections and ensure all people living with HIV access treatment.

It is estimated the country can prevent 162,000 new infections and more than 8,000 AIDS-related deaths if the country ramps up interventions provided by community-led organizations.

The goal of making communities participate in 30 percent of testing services, 80 percent of prevention services and 60 percent of societal enablers will make this goal achievable.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of community-led services was instrumental in continuing delivery of HIV services while government facilities were focused on COVID-19 response.

Community-led organizations like the Rajah Community Center in Iloilo City and the HIV and AIDS Support House (HASH) were able to continue providing HIV services to key populations.

The use of telemedicine by these community-led facilities ensured that medical consultation for people living with HIV remains available even during the height of pandemic-related lockdowns.

But so many communities face barriers to their leadership.

Community-led responses are under-recognized, under-resourced and in some places even under attack. Globally, funding channeled through communities has fallen in the past 10 years from 31 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2021.

These funding shortages, policy and regulatory hurdles, capacity constraints, crackdowns on civil society and on the human rights of marginalized communities are obstructing the progress of HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

It is in everyone’s interests to fully fund community-led organizations and remove the many obstacles they face.

It is by enabling communities in their leadership that the promise to end AIDS can be realized.

This is why communities are at the center of World AIDS Day commemorations this year, including in the new UNAIDS report “Let Communities Lead.”

This annual event serves as a reminder of the global struggle to end HIV-related stigma, an opportunity to honor those we have lost, and a rallying cry to commit to working toward a day when HIV is no longer a public health threat.

This World AIDS Day is a call to action to support communities and unleash their full potential.

The end of AIDS is within reach. We know how to get there: Let Communities Lead!

(The author, a doctor of medicine, is Country Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS Philippines)

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