A Defining Moment for HIV & AIDS
By Paul Perchal, Vice President of Program Management
Next week, I will join thousands of fellow researchers, advocates, and leaders from around the world for the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. Together, we have reached a defining moment in time for HIV and AIDS. With several scientific breakthroughs in recent years, coupled with steadfast efforts to improve access to quality services worldwide, the global community has made important strides to slow the epidemic. In fact, many believe that, with the right investments and through a combination of key interventions in the most critical settings, we can finally see the beginning of the end of HIV and achieve an AIDS-free generation.
The theme of this year’s conference, “Turning the Tide Together,” reflects this pivotal moment and urgently reminds all of us who work in HIV and AIDS to harness this progress in our daily work. Below are three top focus areas in which we must continue to invest to help turn the tide against HIV and AIDS:
- Making Informed and Voluntary Decisions. Expanding access to HIV and AIDS services is essential work, but it isn’t enough to ensure that women can exercise their reproductive rights. Women and men need full information to make informed choices—free of coercion—about decisions that affect their health. In recent decades, the global response to HIV and AIDS has moved from an emergency approach to one of long-term care. Within this changing landscape, women living with HIV today face a number of decisions that impact their health, including planning their families. Ensuring that they have the options, information, and understanding they need to make informed and voluntary decisions is more vital than ever.
- Reaching Marginalized Populations. Ending the HIV epidemic hinges on achieving universal access to HIV services, particularly among populations that are most vulnerable to HIV. Millions of people avoid seeking medical care or getting tested out of fear of stigma and discrimination from health providers, employers, and even their families. Breaking down these barriers requires creating safer, more welcoming health care settings by sensitizing providers, along with policymakers and law enforcement officers. It also means expanding access to mobile testing, condoms, counseling, peer education, life skills training, and income generation opportunities at drop-in centers. Ultimately, universal access to HIV services is the lynchpin to achieving an AIDS-free generation.
- Innovating for HIV Prevention. Male circumcision has proven to cut the risk of heterosexual HIV transmission by up to 64%, a finding that has boosted demand for the procedure throughout Africa. But to date, circumcision rates remain low because conventional surgery requires surgeons, who are often scarce in low-income countries. Many innovations, however, such as the Shang Ring, are helping to make voluntary male circumcision safer and more widely available. Unlike surgical circumcision, the Shang Ring requires no sutures, poses minimal risk, and can be completed in just 3–5 minutes. The simplicity of the device could allow all health professionals—not just doctors—to be trained on the technique.