UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, UNICEF Regional Director for Africa, As Sy together with Director of the HIV Department at WHO Gottfried Hirnschall, answered questions posed by the audience gathered at the community dialogue space at the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa conference.
Mr Sidibé was asked to briefly introduce UNAIDS’ vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discriminations and zero AIDS-related deaths. “For me, this vision is a way to respond to social injustice. All people can have access to the HIV services they need, if we make it a political priority,” said Mr Sidibé.
From the health sector perspective, Dr Hirnschall said, “There is a need put systems in place for people to access treatment, provision of quality and comprehensive services and above all the need for equality to get to zero."
Given the current funding constraints faced by the AIDS response, Mr Sidibé stressed that new ways of doing business are needed: “Getting to zero requires new partnerships, a democratization of problem-solving and innovative solutions to lower the price of drugs. Ultimately, the ‘zero-vision’ is about responding to the AIDS epidemic in a faster, smarter, and better way.”
Jeanne Gappya, a civil society representative from Burundi challenged the UN leaders in the panel: “When I go back to my country, I will be asked if the three zeros will arrive,” she said. “In my view there is another zero and that is zero financing. How are we supposed to get to zero with no funding?” she asked.
Mr As Sy acknowledged that the cancellation of the Global Fund Round 11 was a potential setback, and recognized the anxiety this has created among people living with HIV who are currently accessing treatment as well as organizations and governments pushing for scale up of prevention, treatment, care and support services.
However, Mr As Sy asserted that countries receiving global fund resources should start a discussion on diversifying their funding sources: “Our hopes should not be placed on the Global Fund alone. We need to find alternative sources of financing,” Mr As Sy said.
Echoing these concerns, Mr Sidibé noted that a large percentage of people living with HIV on the African continent are receiving HIV treatment thanks to the Global Fund. He cautioned against stopping this funding, particularly at this make or break moment when Africa is leading the world in reducing HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.
Reflecting on the discussion, Auxiria Mwanza from Zambia said the news of the Global Fund Round 11 cancellations was teaching grass-roots organizations a lesson: “We can no longer rely on external funding. It is up to us to work hard in our own capacity to reach the three zeros. The dependence syndrome can be broken down and communities should have the capacity to respond for themselves,” Ms Mwanza said.
Mr Sidibé agreed that there is a need for African countries to reduce their dependence on external funding sources and for countries to explore innovative sources of funding. This could for example include the establishment of a tax on financial transactions and the creation of an African treatment agency that could make HIV treatment available at a lower cost on the continent.