Sobering thoughts and moments from the closure of the 11th SA AIDS Conference 2023

As the curtain came down on the 11th SA AIDS Conference in Durban on Friday (23 June), there were several sobering moments and thoughts that HIVSA will be considering in the spirit of strengthening its service offerings. Although, generally, it was noted by some speakers that there has been a remarkable decline in new HIV infections over the last two decades, it is the observation that there has been a stagnation in the reduction of new cases that we should be concerned about. The stagnation could be attributable to weakened psychosocial support programmes in certain geographies and populations. Some speakers explained that, if our ARV (antiretroviral) programme has no efficient psychosocial support system extended to care and support, nothing will work effectively to halt the spread of HIV. These observations challenge HIVSA to innovate and strengthen its psychosocial support programme, which is the hallmark of the organization.

The dividend that youth and other marginalized groups can bring to the fight against HIV was emphasized. We need to arm youth with skills to get ahead in life, and build a better future. We can do this by exposing them to the multiple effective prevention interventions that are in existence. But what does this mean for HIVSA? It means we need to go beyond creating demand for HIV testing and treatment and other related services, by challenging ourselves to do more in addressing the socio-economic challenges that youth encounter daily, which exacerbates their vulnerabilities to HIV infection. We should do more to celebrate and inspire youth to be changemakers. Our programmes must give youth agency and the ability to make choices to shape and change their lives. We must appreciate that the future belongs to the youth, and thus, our programmes must leverage young people’s strengths, ideas, and innovation. We need to give them the space to flourish!

The plight of sex workers and the LGBTQI+ society is something that the global community need to confront. HIVSA will never stop fighting alongside the LGBTQIA+ and sex workers community for the human rights, equality, and freedoms they deserve. The fundamental rights of key and vulnerable populations, inclusive of young people – particularly adolescent girls and young women, should be rectified and guaranteed. Health services and treatment should not just be available but also accessible to them. South Africa is urged to urgently decriminalise sex work by speedily passing the Amended Sexual Offences and Related MattersBill that decriminalises sex work. Countries such as Uganda, where the president has waged a deadly attack on the rights of LGBTQI+ by signing authoritarian, anti-human rights legislation, should be condemned with all the scorn that they deserve. Thus, HIVSA joins other activists calling for President Cyril Ramaphosa to call on President Museveni to stop the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

A sobering and emotional experience that will no doubt stay with delegates for a very long time was having Professor Hoosen “Jerry” Coovadia recognised for his priceless contribution to the fight for HIV “acknowledgement” and treatment for all during an era of AIDS denialism in South Africa. The much-loved Professor Coovadia received the Dira Sengwe Lifetime Achievement Award for his formidable and influential determination that paved the way for HIV treatment. There are lessons that the life of Professor Coovadia should impart to all of us. For HIVSA, the impactful and life-changing contribution of Professor Coovadia is testimony to the need to be true to science and be kind to patients. With the current statistics that show us that more effort is needed to place and retain more people with HIV on treatment to achieve the 95-95-95 targets, the life of the good professor is a challenge for us to be courageous in defending scientific integrity, and to implement and campaign for access to better services for all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram