Learning from progressive attempts at ending AIDS by 2030

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The coronavirus pandemic is interrupting immunization against diseases including measles, polio and cholera that could put the lives of nearly 80 million children at risk. Photo by: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

South Africa is part of excellent and uncelebrated contributions and initiatives to end AIDS by 2030. Many international conversations credit South African scientist for coming up with the suggestion of putting all the infected on treatment in order to end new infections and deaths due to AIDS by 2030.  

The brilliant thinking is apparently behind the United Nations 90/90/90 program. The 90/90/90 program means that ninety percent of the population, needs to know their status as it relates to HIV. Ninety per cent of those confirmed to be HIV positive need to be put on treatment, so that 90 percent can be virally suppressed.  

A virally suppressed person, it has been proven, cannot pass the HIV virus to others during unprotected sex, nor can they pass it on to children- I am sure this is not an invitation for risky behaviour. But the value ascriptions and association around AIDS in South Africa are stronger than logic at this stage and most people fear discovering their status for fear of social rejection. 

But what is AIDS? – it is a 36-year-old chronic illness that has been given too much power to eliminate the humanity of the infected; allow for subtle racial profiling; allow for a senseless morality of “promiscuous labelling” on the part of ignorant and mercilessly ungodly people against victims of something that God has loved humanity enough to solve through science. God is in the details as seen below.

Firstly,  the foolish association of HIV and AIDS to gay people even when Freddy Mercury, Magic Johnson and many others have proven it is human living and behaviour problem rather than a moral problem, made permanent damage against humanity.

The hangover over this false moral labelling of HIV and AIDS is distracting from 30 years of medical advancements in treating and managing HIV and AIDS, thus allowing full lives. 

Secondly, working towards the future in harmony with brilliant minds and initiatives will  be the only “mojo” that can help our generation celebrate the end of AIDS by 2030.  The needed commitment is to change the language of  “othering”, for instance saying  “those of us with HIV and AIDS” instead of saying “those people that have HIV and AIDS”, and this was a suggestion by TED presenter Paige Zhange in 2012.  

Thirdly, the importance of producing ARVs in Africa and South Africa cannot be over stated in order to achieve the push needed to make the use of these drugs more and more universal. The United Nations; the global South; the African Union; and South Africa need to be committed to an African produced treatment with the greatest urgency.

This said, let us consider special pathogens like Covid-19, I dare not make over simplistic comparisons but I think that the Gareth Cliff statements about Covid-19  being only dangerous to old people; fat people and people with underlying conditions is the emergence of a new “othering” in the face of Covid-19, is reckless at the very least.

The opening up of churches; businesses and schools is creating another labelling of the “I’m-pragmatic; the uncareful and the low in immune system” casualties rather than human victims of miscalculated opening. Humans touch their faces; and interact.

Our lessons from the end AIDS fight is that human behaviour places people at risk period attitude will assist us to curb risky behaviour and decisions.

Developing African capacity for treatment and vaccination development; for medical technologies and protective attire production is the better policy option that should be the focus of South Africa, Africa, the global South and the international community. Every other statement about vaccines peddled in the society is really a repeat of old AIDS denialisms from a bygone time. 

Aiming at an end of infection through modelling by South African scientists helped the world come up with so many other great initiatives and I think South African Scientists deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Praises. I am confident too if they can create predictive modelling for ending infections of Ebola and Covid-19, and this as well as global partnerships can have an international impact too.