Accra, June 16, GNA - Dr Sylvia J. Anie, Director of the Social Transformation Programmes Division of the Commonwealth, says the world body notes with concern women’s vulnerability to the AIDS epidemic.
She said women were marginalised in the development process, while in many Commonwealth countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa people mostly affected by the epidemic were made up of 60 per cent of women.
Dr Anie made this known while addressing the 2011 UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS in New York.
She said the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality therefore recognised “not only the need to put women at the centre of the development agenda but also at the heart of the global health agenda”.
Dr Anie said the Commonwealth welcomed the increased global coverage of services to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
“Indeed, Rwanda, the newest member of the Commonwealth family, has been commended for its nationwide campaign to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mother to child.
“This campaign seeks to ensure that HIV-positive women receive the best available anti-retroviral drugs as well as information on HIV and family planning.
“In addition, in Papua New Guinea, programmes to prevent mother -to-child
transmission have in recent years increased by 10 fold with the number of
testing sites for women from 17 in 2005 to 178 in 2009,” she said.
Dr Anie said the Commonwealth was in 54 countries on five continents and accounted for a third of the world’s population, a quarter of its countries and a fifth of its trade.
“We are a family of diverse member states - rich and poor, large and small, but all aspiring to the shared goals of freedoms and rights, which emanates from development and democracy.”
Dr Anie said: “With 65 per cent of its two billion citizens affected by HIV and with many of its citizens living in low-income countries, the Commonwealth has a special interest in the global response to the AIDS epidemic, and in the issues of access to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, care and support”.
She said in 2001, when the United Nations General Assembly had a special session n HIV and AIDS, 200,000 people worldwide were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.
Dr Anie said by the end of 2010, more than six million people were receiving anti-retroviral treatment in middle- and low-income countries.
“Such increased access to anti-retroviral drugs, especially in low-income countries, is one of the notable successes of the past decade.
“Many Commonwealth countries have made much progress in applying a multi-sectoral approach and in increasing access to anti-retroviral drugs.
“Botswana, had a very high HIV prevalence rate for many years, and now
has anti-retroviral coverage of more than 90 per cent As a result, the country has been able to avoid about 50,000 adult deaths.
“Ghana, had a prevalence of 3.2 per cent in 2000 and this has reduced
commendably to 1.5 per cent in 2010 as a result of an effective multi-sectoral approach and enhanced political will,” she said.
Dr Anie said Nigeria, had made much progress, increasing anti-retroviral coverage from 1 per cent in 2004 to 21 per cent in 2009, adding that this represents a 20-fold increase in five years.
She said everyday, 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV, including 1000 children.
She said despite the enormous strides in increasing access to anti-retroviral treatment, 60 per cent of people who need treatment still do not receive it.
“There are still 10 million people without access to HIV treatment. In fact
for every person who starts anti-retroviral treatment, two people are newly
infected with HIV. Additionally, only one in three young people have comprehensive knowledge about HIV and how to protect themselves.
Dr Anie said Commonwealth recognised that the barriers to greater access to treatment and services varied, and included weak national infrastructures, financial constraints and negative cultural and social norms.
“In our response to the challenges of the epidemic, we in the Commonwealth have focused on some of these barriers especially stigma, discrimination and social marginalisation.
“The human rights aspects of the AIDS epidemic are indeed of
particular interest to the Commonwealth because human rights principles and
values are integral to all our work.
She said the advocacy activities of the organisation had included youth-focussed education and awareness-raising initiatives, “such as our Youth Ambassadors for Positive Living Programme, which positively reinforces the visibility of young citizens with HIV, thereby undermining stereotypes and lessening stigma and discrimination”.
Dr Anie said many young people across the Commonwealth have been trained as peer educators through The Young Ambassadors for Positive Living Programme and were being utilised to educate their peers and provide correct information about health in general, and HIV in particular.
The programme seeks to ensure that young people remain at the centre of the AIDS response, as partners, leaders and change agents.
“This has been very successful in the African region, particularly in Lesotho, Mauritius, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia, as well as in Asia.
The Commonwealth have incorporated HIV and AIDS in school and teacher training curriculum and in resource manuals.
Commonwealth governments have valued the collaboration of various partners in the fight against HIV and AIDS, including civil society organisations. “We
commend the involvement of civil society in the AIDS response. This has had a
positive impact in overcoming stigma, discrimination and social marginalisation, and in increasing access to treatment, especially for some of the most vulnerable,” Dr Anie said.
She observed that these partnerships were even more critical in the face of decreasing international funding for HIV programmes.