Working together towards an AIDS-free generation
This World AIDS Day, Dr Brian Brink, chief medical officer for Anglo American explains why it’s going to require teamwork, partnership and dedication to beat HIV/AIDS.
The world has made great progress in the battle against AIDS.
I marvel at the way in which access to affordable and effective treatment has transformed the epidemic. From a situation of fear, stigma, discrimination and despair, we can now face the future with the certain knowledge that HIV can be beaten.
The scientific advances that have made this possible, in a relatively short period of time, are nothing short of miraculous. Whilst we don’t yet have a cure, I am optimistic that we are getting closer to a long-term, sustainable solution.
The term AIDS today should be relegated to history. If we diagnose HIV infection early, and ensure access to timely and quality treatment, there should be no-one with HIV infection that progresses to AIDS.
Most people know of the populations that are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection and who are often marginalised with regard to the care, support and treatment they should be getting – these include sex workers and intravenous drug users.
We have to improve our HIV/AIDS response for these people. However, there’s also a particular demographic in sub-Saharan Africa where new cases of HIV infection are occurring far too frequently - young women and girls.
Women and girls at risk
The Gap Report from UNAIDS has revealed that there are about 380,000 new HIV infections among young women aged 15–24 every year. In 2013, almost 60% of all new HIV infections among young people occurred among adolescent girls and young women. The entrenchment of gender-based exploitation, abuse and violence against women is a significant factor in this worrying trend.
The disproportionate burden of HIV infection in young women and girls is something for which men need to take responsibility. Only when men begin to show understanding and respect for the sexual and reproductive rights and health of women and girls, will the world really make real progress towards eliminating HIV infection.
About 330,000 babies are born every year with HIV infection and that’s a burden of disease for life. We have the power to stop it. The fact is that the transmission of HIV from a mother to her child is entirely preventable.
We can get to a generation born HIV-free.
We also need to make sure that the mothers of these children don’t get sick and die. When that happens, the child not only loses a mother, but also his or her opportunities in life – the child loses everything.
Our role as a business
We at Anglo American understand the severity of what HIV/AIDS can mean for those infected and their families.
We also understand what can be done to prevent HIV infection or to mitigate the consequences for those infected. That’s why we run one of the largest corporate programmes to combat HIV/AIDS in the world and invest in numerous community partnerships.
It has been gratifying to see how many employers have responded to the AIDS epidemic by embracing the scientific advances, making the right investments to ensure the health of their workforces and extending these investments to the communities associated with their operations.
This is something to celebrate. It defines the concept of sustainable business and shared value with society.
We also understand that human rights must be the foundation of our HIV/AIDS response. Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV have been the most hurtful societal responses to the AIDS epidemic. The world has sadly not made sufficient progress in protecting the human rights of those most vulnerable to HIV, including their right to health.
Fortunately there are civil society organisations that have had the courage to stand up for what is right in the response to HIV/AIDS and to never give up. NGOs have been pivotal in the success of the global response to the epidemic. Increased corporate social investment in support of human rights based NGO’s would help sustain the gains that they have achieved.
When governments, the private sector and civil society work together – reflecting a major theme for this year’s World AIDS Day: “Focus, partner, achieve: an AIDS free generation” – we can make a real difference.
Our success in fighting AIDS has shown that it is possible. We must go forward with the resolve to build on this success and progressively realise the right to health for all.