France lead­ing the global war against HIV/Aids

The Sunday Independent - - METRO - CHRISTOPHE FARNAUD Christophe Farnaud is the Am­bas­sador of France in South Africa

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.

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