An AIDS-free generation was simply unimaginable
01 Sep 2015 by Kazuyuki Uji, Policy Specialist, HIV, Health and Inclusive Development, Bangkok Regional Hub, UNDP
In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on working with the Millennium Development Goals.
On 14 July 2015, the UN Secretary General made a historical announcement: “Together, we have achieved and exceeded the AIDS-related targets of Millennium Development Goal 6... [W]e are on our way to an AIDS-free generation.”
This was simply unimaginable around the period I joined UNDP in early 2000’s when HIV was still thriving in Asia and HIV treatment was a luxury for the privileged few.
As I read the Secretary General’s statement, my thoughts drifted to the faces of community activists in India with whom I worked closely but who passed away because they did not have access to affordable treatment.
I recalled the small funeral of a 10-year-old girl in Sri Lanka who had died of AIDS, so thin and small as if she were a 4-year old. She did not have any friends, neighbours, or even relatives at the funeral.
I was also recollecting stories of many people living with HIV who were pushed into poverty because they were too sick to work, lost jobs due to discrimination, or had to give up all their savings to pay for treatment.
At the same time, I reflected on how the community of people living with HIV contributed to achieving the MDG 6 targets of halting and reversing the spread of HIV and putting 15 million people on HIV treatment by 2015.
The community is largely composed of those among the most stigmatized and excluded in society. Included are transgender persons (i.e. people who have a gender identity that is different from his or her sex at birth), men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers, widows, and the poor.
They have fundamentally changed the way affected people can be empowered and engaged in disease responses as contributing partners - gathering evidence, providing services, and influencing policies. They have demonstrated that the rights of everybody count. And they have created a movement towards a world that acknowledges, embraces, and thrives on diversity.
My first work at UNDP was to support community groups of people living with HIV across Asia and the Pacific. UNDP helped them get organized, develop skills, and access policymakers, so that they could address their needs collectively, protect their rights, and join policy dialogues.
Having witnessed their struggles, refusal to give up, and determination to realize their rights, I read the Secretary General’s statement as a victory of the community, and a testament that people can change the world.
It is a living proof that the vision of ‘leaving no one behind’ becomes a real possibility when the most vulnerable and marginalized people are placed at the centre of the response. This also symbolizes UNDP’s approach to HIV and health.
The HIV targets of MDG 6 have been achieved at the global level.
However, significant gaps remain before we can witness a world free from AIDS, where all people can receive affordable treatment, and the rights of the marginalized people are respected.
Today, in the Asia-Pacific region, only about 1/3 of people living with HIV are receiving lifesaving treatment. 38 countries criminalize behaviours of certain populations including same-sex relationships and sex work, holding back effective HIV responses. And their rights continue to be disregarded and violated.
We still have a long way to go, but I believe a similar success is not unimaginable.
As we approach the end of 2015, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on working with the Millennium Development Goals over the last 15 years, and reflect on the transition to the new Sustainable Development Goals.