As we celebrate our victories in the struggle against AIDS, and uphold our call for actions to intensify our efforts to end the AIDS pandemic on this 1st December, a new slogan, time-bound, of what can be achieved. Achievable.. but if..
Getting to Zero: End AIDS by 2030. Since AIDS has been clinically observed in the United States in 1981 among homosexuals and injecting drug users, progress in terms of containing the virus, placing people on treatment and preventing new infections through a series of combined efforts of literacy, challenging stigma and discrimination, advocacy and changing of laws and policy, provision of new medical techniques, and access to sexual and reproductive health components cannot be denied.
In Mauritius, where the infection touches 1% of the population – around 10,000 estimated infected people – HIV is mostly found among Key Affected Populations (KAPs) which include Injecting Drug Users (IDUs), Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs), Men having Sex with Men (MSMs) and Transgenders (TGs). Compared to the African continent which accounts for around 70% of global HIV infections and HIV-related deaths where countries such as Swaziland, Botswana, and South Africa have HIV rates of 20 – 27 % of their population!
Throughout years, civil society organisations and government alike have supported activities and programmes to fight AIDS. The fight against AIDS in Mauritius amounts to above a hundred of millions of rupees invested, government alone disbursed around 70% of these costing the rest 30% coming from donor organisations, UNAIDS and the likes. The progress in Mauritius, in terms of new cases of HIV, the figures of newly detected cases have fallen from 542 in 2006 to 322 end 2014 and further lower new cases detected of 194 for the first 9 months of 2015. Mauritius has also adopted a HIV/AIDS Act in 2006 for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) which is a progressive piece of legislation except for the HIV travel restrictions and has provision of free antiretroviral therapy (ART) in its healthcare system.
Yet upgraded efforts to end stigma and discrimination, decriminalising and humanising KAPs affected and infected with the virus, providing abreast healthcare services and medication are still much awaited. The burden of these efforts does not rest on government alone, but is a shared responsibility between the various actors on the response to HIV/AIDS. Irresponsibly and in dehumanizing approaches, same sex identities have been reduced to merely same-sex sexual acts by terming these people as MSMs, people reached to be sensitised and have condoms and lubricants distributed to them are merely being converted to codes as numbers for organisations overseeing programmatic requirements! Are we doing sustained and impactful advocacy, are there holistic and tailored health services being provided?
For NGOs alone, from the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) funding in Mauritius, the average amount spent on one person from the KAPs to avail of HIV-related services amounts to some Rs. 7,000 annually. Nonetheless, new infections among gay and bisexual men are increasing by around 35%. Cost effectively, these figures do not leave one indifferent; prompting us to ask not: What quantities are we reaching but quality-wise, what are we, civil society actors and NGOs doing? The attitudes and mentalities of “pas moi sa li sa” or eyeing and peeping on neighbours yard or blaming and criticising solely specific Ministers for policies do not move us an inch forward.
Getting to Zero: End AIDS by 2030 in Mauritius; an attainable goal, but with innovative, integrated and humanizing actions.
Fokeerbux Najeeb A.