Code red: AIDS activists march for treatment for all

Code red: AIDS activists march for treatment for allHIV positive women were at greater risk of developing cervical cancer, HIV negative women were also at risk.Pic: Sibongile Nkosi

The world should not talk about the end of AIDS while 20 million people don’t have treatment, said activists who handed a memorandum to the UN’s Ban Ki-Moon in Durban on Monday.

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Thousands of HIV activists marched in Durban on Monday July 18. (Sibongile Nkosi)
Thousands of HIV activists marched in Durban on Monday July 18. Credit: Sibongile Nkosi

On Monday Durban’s streets hummed with the sound of an estimated 10 000 chanting HIV activists hailing from around the globe demanding a revitalised response to the AIDS epidemic.

“We need to wake the world up because the fight against HIV is not over. When 20 million people don’t have access to medicines that could save their lives, we cannot say that the AIDS epidemic is under control,” said Mark Heywood, head of social justice organisation SECTION27.

He spoke amidst a sea of white and purple shirts reading ‘HIV positive’ as the group marched from King Dinizulu Park to the Inkosi Albert Luthulu International Convention Centre – the site of the 21st International AIDS Conference which returned to Durban for the first time since 2000.

End AIDS by 2030

Activists said that a political decision taken a few weeks ago by United Nations (UN) member states to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is disconnected from the realities of people living with HIV.

“How can we talk about an end to AIDS when 20 million out of the 37 million people living with HIV around the world don’t have treatment? How can we talk about an end to AIDS when people are being turned away from facilities with no ARVs?” asked Anele Yawa, who heads up the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), South Africa’s biggest HIV lobby group.

Lead by the TAC, activists delivered a memorandum to key political figures in the AIDS response including South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and United States Ambassador Patrick Gaspard.

“We are calling on Ban Ki-Moon to man up and provide leadership globally,” said Yawa.

Much more needed to end epidemic

Wearing a bright red T-shirt, Yves Yomb from the Cameroonian organisation Africa Gay Network said that the 2030 goal is “unrealistic”.

“To achieve this we need increase funding, look at human rights seriously and include all those who need to be included – which is not happening now.”

Although AIDS is treatable and preventable, globally over one million people die each year from the disease. This is while funding from wealthy countries dropped substantially for the first time in 2015.

“Technically we have the means to end AIDS by 2030 but there is a big difference between saying and doing. We need political commitments to increase funding and to make treatment available to all,” said Antoine Henry, from France’s biggest HIV advocacy organisation AIDES.

AIDS fight needs a reboot

Holding a poster reading ‘Missing medicines in clinics’ Maria Malu from the Philippines said that the HIV response needs to be “rebooted”.

“We’re here today because we need renewed activism to continue this long journey – and we’re not there yet.”

Representing 7 Sisters, a coalition of AIDS organisation in the Asia Pacific, Malu said new energy is needed as “we’ve become complacent in the last 10 to 15 years”.

“People feel like the end is near but that is just not the reality – we need global solidarity to get this message across.”

Marching, prayers and hope

Dressed in a black suit and white clerical collar, Pastor Milton Cele from the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Counsel lead a prayer through a megaphone calling on “God to heal this disease and for the government to supply treatment to every single person who needs it”.

Heywood, who “marched these same streets in 2000 calling for the South African government to supply treatment at a time where there was none except for the rich” said he saw a “similar determination” today.

“The activism of 16 years ago saved 15 million lives and showed the world can care. We’re here today in solidarity with the people still dying in the hope that we can save the lives of 20 million more.” – Health-e News.