Recently in Dakar, Senegal, UNAIDS and the Alliance Nationale Contre le Sida, or ANCS, held a three-day capacity workshop. This workshop was designed to discuss the continued political, legal, cultural and social challenges that hinder efforts addressing the HIV epidemic in Africa.
So then, why are human rights and gender equality so important? According to UNICEF, “A lack of respect for human rights fuels the spread of HIV and exacerbates the impact of the epidemic … at the same time, HIV undermines progress in the realization of human rights and hampers the scale-up of high-impact interventions.” Without proper education of human rights and gender equality, atrocities like gender-based violence not only increase the vulnerability of the area, but also the likelihood of transmitting the HIV infection.
The discussions focused on the fact that human rights, gender equality and the involvement of people living with HIV were rarely factored into the national programs and planning aimed at reducing or preventing HIV. In the few instances where human rights, gender equality and the involvement of people living with HIV were included, they were not addressed at the cost and budgeting phase; with little ability to track progress, these programs were not evaluated or taken to scale.
Participants stressed the importance of different approaches and tools for ensuring the inclusion of programs to advance human rights and gender equality. Each country elaborated on individual national action plans with specific commitments to integrate these human rights and gender programs into their national HIV/AIDS response.
Leopold Zekeng, deputy director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for West and Central Africa, said, “Unless the legal and social environments are protective of the people living with and vulnerable to HIV, people will not be willing or able to come forward for HIV prevention and treatment. Human rights need to be at the core of our Fast-Track efforts towards ending the AIDS epidemic in the region.”
At the end of the meeting, the delegation concluded that human rights and full access to services for everyone in West and Central Africa should be the core of the “Fast-Track” declaration, now named the Dakar Declaration, which aims at scaling up the HIV response in West and Central Africa. With this new plan, one hopes to see positive and significant change—such as erasing AIDS from the region by 2030.
– Alysha Biemolt