- by Charlotte Taylor
Thirty years after AIDS was first reported there is still an estimated 34 million people living with HIV worldwide with two-thirds of them living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this, with increased progress in the prevention and treatment of HIV, especially in the last ten years, an opportunity stands before us to be the generation to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Since its inception in 2002, the Global Fund has been the central financial institution working to fight against malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS. The Fund’s supported programmes are delivering anti-retroviral treatment to 6 million people whilst also helping to support people living with HIV by reducing the fear and stigma associated with the disease. However, international funding to support the Global Fund has plateaued and there is a real risk that infection rates of HIV could rise dramatically once again. Simply put, this cannot be an option.
As World AIDS Day neared this year, Restless Development staff, returned volunteers and student STOP AIDS campaigners rallied together to campaign for the replenishment of the Global Fund, which has a target of US$15 billion. In September this year the UK government pledged £1 billion to support the Global Funds aspirations to save 10 million lives and prevent 140-180 new infections of malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS over the next three years. However, this commitment needs to be echoed by other governments including France, Germany, Australia, Canada and Japan.
Gathering at Restless Development’s office, we started the day by watching ‘How to Survive a Plague’, a documentary about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US in the 80s and 90s. The film followed the lives of those who led the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) campaign which fought against US government negligence and anti-gay prejudice to bring about treatment for people living with HIV. It was humbling to be reminded of how people lost their lives fighting for their human rights during that time.
With an air of fight and solidarity amongst us, and armed with red ribbons, our team hit Southbank to gather support from the general public for the Global Fund replenishment campaign. Our approach was different to the usual campaign tactic of give a donation in exchange for a red ribbon. Instead we were asking for ‘a tweet for a ribbon’ to create a collective voice through Twitter to pressure donor governments to increase their pledge.
At 4pm we headed to The House of Commons to be part of the audience for the parliamentary panel discussion jointly organised with the APPG in HIV and AIDS. The room was packed with people representing various organisations who were listening attentively as the panel members took their turn to address the audience. Chaired by Russell Brown MP, the panel included the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development - Lynne Featherstone; a lady from Zimbabwe living with HIV/AIDS; and other representatives from UNAIDS; the Global Fund; Comic Relief; and our own Nik Hartley from Restless Development.
The discussion reflected on both the successes and challenges facing the response to HIV so far which was referred to as not just a development issue but also a global issue. What became apparent, especially in Lynne Featherstone’s contribution, was the need for an integrative and holistic approach to the HIV response with increased synergy between different issues. For example, she stated that DFID recognise the importance of reaching women and girls and they are now paying greater attention to understanding how gender inequality also drives epidemics. Indeed, the sound-bite of the discussion was to ‘leave no-one behind’ in the response to HIV/AIDS.
After the discussion there was one last opportunity for a final Restless Development action to close the day. Everyone gathered outside for a photo-op with the 7 foot red ribbon lantern which was projected onto the river. Overall, the day was a good opportunity to have our voices heard and the message from here remains: although there is an uphill climb ahead, let’s keep up the momentum and be the generation to STOP AIDS!