World AIDS Day 2011: Getting to Zero
The message for World AIDS Day 2011 is clear: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.
But to reach this vision we must move as quickly as the AIDS virus does, says UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova. We are making headway but progress remains deeply unequal, she adds.
Globally, the annual rate of new HIV infections dropped by 21 percent between 1997 and 2010, and the number of people died of AIDS-related causes is decreasing.
This positive trend is also observed in sub-Saharan Africa, where the total number of new HIV infections has fallen, as well as AIDS-related deaths among children and adults. Access to free antiretroviral treatment has also greatly improved.
A human catastrophe
But the situation in Africa still constitutes a human catastrophe, says Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director for UNESCO’s Regional Office for Education in Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal.
The continent represents only 12% of the world population, but is home to 68% of all people living with HIV. This means that some 22.5 million African today live with AIDS. “In addition, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV is widespread in societies in Africa,” add Ndong-Jatta.
Great variations in Africa
The HIV prevalence differs greatly among African countries. In the West African countries covered by UNESCO Dakar (Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and The Gambia), the number of HIV infected adults are less than 4 percent. In East and South Africa, infection rates reach as many as 25 percent.
Nobody really knows for sure the reason for these variations. Some advance the type of the virus (HIV2) found in west and central Africa which is less infectious at the early stages of the infection. Lifestyle, cultural beliefs and political will are also put forward to explain the situation.
New UNESCO strategy
UNESCO has launched a new UNESCO Strategy for HIV and AIDS to sharpen the Organization’s action.
“Our overarching goal is clear,” says the UNESCO Director-General.
“We must ensure universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. For this, we are structuring our action around three priorities that are strategic: building country capacity for effective and sustainable education responses to HIV, strengthening comprehensive HIV and sexuality education, and advancing gender equality and protect human rights.”
Working on four fronts
In Africa, UNESCO is working on three fronts:
- Involving young people more in the search for solutions,
- Working towards reducing stigma and discrimination,
- Understanding so as to reverse the phenomenon of the feminization of HIV & AIDS, and
- Advocating for sexuality education
In Senegal, UNESCO Chairs of the Joint UN Team on AIDS.