France leading the global war against HIV/Aids
ACROSS the world, we commemorate World AIDS Day, on December 1, by celebrating the progress made to fight HIV/Aids on an international level. Today, as South Africa celebrates the Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, we strengthen our commitment to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes putting an end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
While great strides have been made, South Africa still has 7.2 million people living with HIV/Aids, according to Unitaid figures.
To eliminate Aids as a global public health threat by 2030, we need to reach the “90-90-90” target by 2020. This means: 90% of those infected know their status, 90% of those 90% (81% of total) receive antiretroviral therapy and 90% of these 90% (73% of total) are virally suppressed (undetectable viral load).
There is reason for hope. In South Africa: the HIV incidence has decreased by 34% and, in particular, by 28% for adolescent girls and young women (aged 15-24). South Africa has the largest treatment programme in the world, and, from 2012 to 2017, the number of Aids deaths was reduced by 47%. Furthermore, the number of new child infections has been reduced by 56%. The country also has one of the largest domestically funded programmes, with about 80% of the Aids response funded by the government.
France has been actively involved in the fight against HIV/Aids for decades. France is a founding member of and the second-largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
France’s contribution to the Global Fund amounts to R69bn since the Global Fund’s establishment, and France has pledged R5.7bn every year for the 2017-2019 period. Health programmes supported by the Global Fund have saved 27 million lives so far.
The Global Fund has been present in South Africa since 2002 and has thus far funded 22 projects for a total amount of R13bn.
In addition, France is the main contributor to Unitaid, a global health initiative France co-founded in 2006. Unitaid seeks innovative ways to prevent and treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In HIV treatment, Unitaid focuses on the funding of research into paediatric medication, secondline medicines (for people who do not respond well or have side-effects to first-line ARV treatments) and integrated prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, therefore addressing gaps in global public health funding for HIV/Aids treatment. In 2012, the organisation launched the largest investment in the technology called “point-of-care”, which allows rapid detection of HIV for speedy initiation of therapy.
It has proven to be easy to transport, operate and maintain.
In 2017, the HIV Self-Testing Africa (STAR) initiative, a R200m project funded by Unitaid to provide kits for HIV home testing, started in South Africa after being deployed in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
STAR intends to distribute over two million self-testing kits to South Africans who are unaware of their HIV status. Self-testing has the potential to change the course of the HIV/Aids epidemic by increasing the number of people who know their HIV status, therefore making a significant contribution to the achievement of the UN’s 90-90-90 treatment targets.
On a social level, France’s actions are led by a strong rights-based approach focusing on gender equity and vulnerable populations such as young women, men having sex with men, drug users, victims of sexual exploitation, migrants and prisoners.
Furthermore, France is at the forefront of developing a preventive vaccine against Aids. The French National Agency for Research on Aids and Viral Hepatitis has been one of the main international players in this field, with more than 20 vaccine trials. The agency has developed several preventative treatments as well as treatment for HIV-positive patients, with the aim of boosting their immune systems.
In October 2019, the 6th Global Fund Replenishment Conference will take place in France for the first time – in the city of Lyon. There, leaders of governments, representatives of civil society, of private sector and of communities will commit to funding the Global Fund for the period 202022. We hope to exceed the R180bn contributions gathered from the 2016 conference in Montreal.
In 2019, France will preside over the G7, making it possible to mobilise the international community on global health issues.
France and South Africa will continue working together closely to reach the 90-90-90 target by 2020, to make an Aids-free world a reality.