The 1st of December marks World AIDS Day. On this occasion, Lydia Greenaway offers some thoughts on combating the disease, the Millennium Development Goals, and the post-2015 agenda.
Today is World AIDS Day, a day that aims to increase awareness, celebrate progress and bring people together in a global movement. This month also draws us closer to 2015, a year of opportunity for development, as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to a close and the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) take the stage.
In 2000, AIDS gained a central place in the development framework, as a primary focus of MDG 6, to ‘combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases’. Buoyed by activism and community involvement to hold leaders to account, this political commitment helped push AIDS to the top of the health agenda, enabling significant achievements over the last decade and a half. Since 2001, new HIV infections have fallen by 38% and new HIV infections among children have fallen by 58%. Since 2005, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 35%, and 13.6 million people living with HIV now have access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapy.
Despite this progress and hope, however, challenges remain. As we head towards a new development era, it is clear that the agenda is becoming increasingly crowded and complex. This year, after a feat of consultative processes, the Open Working Group, a UN Member State body mandated at Rio+20, released its proposal for the SDGs. The Group proposes 17 goals, a substantial step up from the 8 MDGs. Under these goals are a total of 169 targets, spanning social, economic and environmental issues, as well as implementation, data collection and accountability. Furthermore, the SDGs are universally applicable, to be met in all countries. This vastly increased scope is likely to change the structure and dynamics of development over the next decade.
Ensuring that AIDS is not lost in this new framework is imperative. AIDS currently features as a target under the health goal: ‘by 2030, end the epidemic of AIDS’. This is a feasible target, but the agenda must look beyond AIDS as merely a health issue. Acknowledging the social and political determinants of the disease is a primary step to addressing health inequities. Failing to centrally position issues of equality, gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the post-2015 agenda could put the AIDS target at risk.
Despite increased awareness about transmission, 2.1 million people were newly infected by HIV in 2013. Furthermore, AIDS disproportionately affects women and young people. Young women in sub-Saharan Africa are twice as likely to contract HIV as young men and AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Worldwide, one young person is infected with HIV every 14 seconds and less than 30% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa have the knowledge to protect themselves from infection. Deep-rooted social and legal barriers to information and access still remain, affecting key populations, including LGBT+, drug users, sex workers, migrants and refugees. For example, same-sex sexual acts are criminalized in 78 countries and punishable by death in seven, while 38 countries, territories and areas restrict entry, stay or residence to people living with HIV.
So, does the current SDG proposal go far enough in its ambitions on AIDS? Moreover, how can young people in the UK get involved in ensuring that AIDS remains a priority in the post-2015 era? One of the key demands from young people is the promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive rights, a contested issue and notable omission from the OWG proposal. Sexual and reproductive rights are difficult to define, but broadly constitute control over one’s own body, sexual health and sexuality, and the right to autonomy and consent. This includes the right to sexual education, LGBT+ rights and the right to contraception. Poor access to comprehensive sexual education and rights over the body and sexual choices pose major health threats to young people the world over.
PACT, a collaboration of 25 youth organizations, together with UNAIDS, launched ACT 2015 in November 2013, an initiative aiming to mobilize a movement to ensure that strong HIV and SRHR targets are included in the post-2015 framework. Over the next year, they will be uniting young people in various ways, including a global day of action, to garner political commitment to HIV, SRHR and social justice. The AIDS movement needs young people as much as young people need it, to question the status quo, challenge social norms and push through an ambitious post-2015 agenda. ACT 2015 is a great way to participate and as a youth-led charity, DiA is always working to raise awareness amongst young people, so watch this space. In the meantime, you can get involved by ensuring you’re informed and aware, joining the Youth Voices online platform and lobbying your MP to make a strong, youth-friendly post-2015 agenda a priority for the year ahead. You can also head over to My World 2015 to cast your own vote on the issues that matter to you.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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