When I was fresh out of university and intent on making a difference to the world, I spent six months in South Africa, where the HIV footprint is visible everywhere – in households headed by children orphaned by the epidemic; in funeral tents appearing weekly in the community; and in grandmothers caring for their young children.Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region hardest hit by HIV, with young women and girls at particular risk.
The scale of the epidemic was plain to see when I visited an Umlazi hospital’s HIV clinic. A long line of people, who had been arriving since 5am, snaked out the clinic and ran the length of the veranda. Inside, every chair and inch of floor space was taken up with waiting people. If it was not raining, I was told, the line of people waiting to access lifesaving treatment for HIV would stretch much further.
Today is World AIDS Day, a time to reflect on the steps taken in the global fight against HIV, and the ground still to be covered.
The global footprint of HIV and AIDS saw 800,000 people die worldwide in 2014, with a further 400,000 dying of preventable, curable tuberculosis while living with HIV. TB is in fact now responsible for one in three deaths of people with HIV. A massive 58 per cent of people do not have access to treatment for HIV, and increasing drug-resistance in TB poses a considerable challenge.
There is also great reason to be hopeful. Whereas in 2000, just 300,000 people worldwide were on antiretroviral therapy to treat their HIV and help them lead healthy lives, today that number is 15.8 million – a staggering 50-fold increase in 15 years.
Globally, the number of people becoming infected with HIV or dying of AIDS has dropped by about 40 per cent since 2000. This did not happen by accident. It took a globally co-ordinated effort, underpinned by global commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and increased investment by countries like Australia.
Over eight million of the 15 million people who are on HIV treatment today, are so because of programs supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria.
Australia has been a donor to the Global Fund since 2004 through the Australian aid program, and our contributions are estimated to have put 110,000 people with HIV on treatment.
I’m proud to know a tiny portion of my tax dollars has helped these people receive treatment, care for their kids, work and live healthy lives.
The Sustainable Development Goals, signed by 193 world leaders at the United Nations in September, aim to finish what the Millennium Development Goals started and contain a grand vision of a world free of the HIV, TB and malaria epidemics by 2030. It’s an ambitious goal, but the rapid progress to turn the tide of HIV since 2000 gives me hope it can be done. But only if we continue to invest.
As the global community seeks to enhance and accelerate progress against these diseases in the march to an epidemic-free world by 2030, Australia cannot afford to take a step backwards.
Rebuilding Australian aid, which has declined dramatically since 2013, and resisting further cuts, are essential next steps to taking an epidemic-free world from vision to reality.
Surely that’s a footprint we’d be proud to leave behind.
Gina Olivieri lives in Hobart and is Grassroots Engagement Manager with RESULTS International Australia, a movement of passionate, committed everyday people who use their voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty.