MASERU – Ordinary community members have for a long time been the unsung heroes in grassroots efforts to combat HIV, often without compensation or recognition. As a result, UNAIDS is making a call to shift the way they partner and work with communities, recognising and creating space for them to do the work they do well. Evidence shows that they are being held back in their leadership by funding shortages, policy and regulatory hurdles, capacity constraints, and crackdowns on civil society and on the human rights of marginalised communities, all obstructing the progress of HIV prevention and treatment services.
Speaking at the Community Systems Strengthening Dialogue event which was organised by communities and for communities on how they are playing and can continue playing their role in the national HIV response this week, the UNAIDS Country Director Pepukai Chikukwa said organisations of communities living with or at risk of being affected by HIV, had been at the centre of HIV responses from the very beginning of the HIV epidemic. Chikukwa also appreciated the advocacy of communities with the availability of generic HIV medicines, and price reductions. She said the marked improvements were paramount. She said viral suppression enables people living with HIV to live long, healthy lives with zero risk of transmitting HIV to other people.
The communities connected people to person-centred public health services, build trust, innovating, monitoring implementation of policies and services, while also ensuring quality services and providing systematic feedback to service providers, Chikukwa added. “They remain essential in advocating for robust responses, delivering services that reach everyone in need and tackling HIV-related stigma and discrimination,” said Chikukwa. “We also saw the resilience and innovation demonstrated by them during the COVID-19 pandemic in reaching affected people with safe, affordable and effective services, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination, HIV prevention, testing and treatment and other health and social services.”
The call by UNAIDS for this year’s World AIDS Day is in line with the commitments made in the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, ‘Ending Inequalities and Getting on Track to End AIDS by 2030’, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in June 2021.
Specifically, in clause 64, member states including Lesotho made a Commitment to the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS principle, and to empower communities of people living with or at risk of and affected by HIV, including women, adolescents and young people, to play their critical leadership roles in the HIV response by including them in decision-making, planning, implementing and monitoring, among others.
Ahead of this year’s World AIDS Day to be commemorated on December 1, UNAIDS makes a global call to action to strengthen and facilitate symbiotic relationships to enable and support communities in their leadership roles. National AIDS Commission (NAC)’s Chief Executive Officer, Lebohang Mothae said civil society organisations and community-based organisations addressed societal barriers critical to HIV response such as violating rights and discrimination against communities or groups of individuals, amongst others.
“Therefore, in order to reach the 95-95-95 global targets and end AIDS by 2030, we need to let communities lead to accelerate, innovate and sustain to improve progress,” Mothae said.
As achievements of community leadership were highlighted, NAC and UNAIDS also saw it fit to dig deeper to see how they could improve communities’ contribution, the type of support required, noting their significance and enablers that will advance their leadership.