In order to increase the uptake of health services, local civil society bodies firmly support this year’s official World AIDS Day theme, “Let communities lead.”
The civil society organisations are among others, hoping to reduce unintended pregnancies and the high rate of new infections, provide services that are people-centred, rights-based, friendly youth services, and provide an enabling environment for adolescent girls and young women, including key populations. World AIDS Day is commemorated on December 1.
Speaking during the launch of this year’s national World AIDS Day, last Friday, Thakane Kotelo from Phelisanang Bophelong HIV/AIDS Network said community-based organisations play an important role in the fight against HIV and Tuberculosis (TB).
She said activists and community caretakers who are reliable and loyal watchdogs are agents of change, advocating for quality services that are stigma-free, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or sexual expression.
“We have been in this battle with the support of the government and the community councils through which we enter the communities through them as our gateway to provide services,” said Kotelo. However, she said they still have to put in more effort to reach adolescent girls and young women.
She said they had not done enough on TB and asked partners to invest in civil society and put more resources where they were most needed. She said civil societies could do better if they had the resources to cover the whole country.
Civil society’s main work, Kotelo said, was to raise awareness on issues of child marriages and early marriages, including cervical cancer, which is common among people living with HIV/AIDS.
UNAIDS Country Director, Pepukai Chikukwa said community-led organisations have long been the backbone of the HIV response. She said the organisations raise the alarm about rights violations and lagging services, as well as proposing solutions. Chikukwa said even in challenging conditions, the organisations provide people-centred services to underserved and marginalised populations.
She further said communities are being held back, adding that there is funding shortages, policy challenges, and capacity constraints that are obstructing the progress of HIV prevention and treatment services.
“If these obstacles are removed, community-led organisations can add even greater impetus to the global HIV response, advancing progress towards the end of AIDS,” said Chikukwa.
UNAIDS’s outlook on this year’s World AIDS Day is that all can end AIDS with communities leading the way and that the day be more than a celebration of the achievements of communities and a call to action to enable and support communities in their leadership roles.
“Because change depends not on a moment but on a movement, UNAIDS also believes that the ‘Let Communities Lead’ message will not only ring true on December 1, but even beyond, because they have seen how powerful communities are in HIV response,” Chikukwa said.
Chief Executive of the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Lebohang Mothae, said they also have a youth community that they have to take care of because new infections are found to be many among them.
Mothae said it is important that they understand the conditions they live in as well as the reasons preventing them from testing for HIV/AIDS.