The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Commission), through its Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV, joins the entire world in commemorating the World AIDS Day on 1 December.
The World AIDs Day has been celebrated since 1988 as an international day specially dedicated to solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV/AIDS), mourning those who have died of AIDs and sensitizing the global public about the AIDS pandemic caused by the continuing spread of HIV.
This year’s campaign theme, “Equalise”, is a call to action to Governments, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, civil society organisations, (especially women, youth, PLHIV/AIDS and persons with disabilities organisations), academic, traditional and faith-based organisations, developed countries and development partners, to work together through concerted efforts to address inequalities and help role back the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
There is a general sense in Africa that the global AIDS campaign is under threat. Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic over two years ago, the fight against Covid-19 and the economic as well as humanitarian crises that have ensued from it have almost overshadowed existing national, regional and international responses against the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. With about 60% of the world’s poorest in debt distress or the risk of it, and with almost 100 million people pushed into poverty, developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, have been most affected in their ability to respond. Furthermore, the Commission is concerned that the continent continues to post the highest prevalence rate of the HIV pandemic (with countries in the Southern Africa region such as Eswatini (27%), closely followed by Lesotho (25%), Botswana (20%) and South Africa (19%) being the most impacted).
Despite some notable progress in reducing annual HIV infections in West and Central Africa – led by improvements in Nigeria – infections in other regions of Africa and globally remain alarming. According to the UNAIDS Global Aids Update 2022, HIV infections have surged in 38 countries globally since 2015, including in 10 African countries, namely: Algeria, Cape Verde, the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritania, Senegal, South Sudan, Sudan, and Tunisia. Currently, an estimated 4 000 people – composed of 1 100 young people aged 15 to 24 years – get infected with HIV every day. By this metric, 1.2million people are projected to get infected with the virus by 2025 – summing up to three times as many as the 2025 target of 370 000 new infections.
The Commission is particularly concerned about the slowing down of progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS since Covid-19 and pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Data from the UNAIDS Global AIDS Update 2022 show that the human impact from the disruption in HIV responses globally is particularly concerning. In 2021, 650 000 people died of AIDS-related causes, while a small increase of just 1.4 million people had access to HIV treatment relative to those living with the virus, those at risk or vulnerable to HIV. If urgent action is not taken to accelerate access to anti-retroviral treatment and prevent PLHIV from reaching an advanced stage of the disease, not only will HIV and AIDS-related diseases such as cryptococcal meningitis and tuberculosis continue to heighten the vulnerability and risk to PLHIV, but also these diseases will continue to be the leading causes of death for a long time.
The Commission calls for urgent measures by governments and international development partners to address the problems associated with the pandemic, with particular concern for the youth in Africa, especially women and girls aged 10 to 24 years, who account for a significant portion of new HIV infections. Governments should channel more resources to urgently address the lack of access to HIV-related prevention, care and treatment services, inadequate healthcare service delivery, gender inequalities and gender-based violence, lack of decision-making power for persons with disabilities living with or most vulnerable to the virus, the exclusion of historically disadvantage ethnic-minority communities (including indigenous populations) from access to basic health services, and stigma.
The Commission takes this occasion of the World AIDS Day to urge States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) to revitalize and increase their prevention programmes through actions targeted at promoting sex education and access to healthcare for at-risk groups to effectively fight against the risk of high infections and vulnerability among adolescents, especially girls and young women.
The Commission calls on States Parties to the African Charter to adopt the necessary measures for compliance with their national, regional and international commitments by developing HIV/AIDS responses through legal frameworks, programmes, and strategies that effectively protect the rights of PLHIV/AIDS, vulnerable persons and those at risk, and improve their access to quality HIV treatment, care and support services.
In the light of this year’s African Union theme on Nutrition, the Commission further calls on State Parties to prioritise the right of access to food, good nutrition for PLHIV/AIDS and anti-retroviral medicines in accordance with their express and implied obligations under the African Charter and other relevant international human rights laws.
Honourable Commissioner, Dr Litha Musyimi-Ogana
Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV and those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV