About 10 000 people marched to the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC), many of whom were young women.
Among the crowd was a group of young women from Umhlathuze, which supports young HIV positive women based in rural KwaZulu-Natal to adhere to ARV treatment.
“People are still dying in large numbers. Young women continue to be infected at a frightening rate,” said Nomalungelo Mhlanga, one of the caregivers at the Umhlathuze “We are marching to say we are not close to ending Aids, when young women face the highest risk of HIV. There is a great need for resources and funding that will cater for programmes aimed at HIV positive young women,” added Mhlanga.
Read: 16 years on, the world’s biggest Aids conference returns to Africa
Young women are a big focus of the conference, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa lamenting that HIV remained “stubbornly high” in young women aged 15 to 24. Actress Charlise Theron described Aids as the “biggest killer of adolescents in Africa and the number two killer of adolescents globally”.
“Our young people are dying at a rate that should frighten us,” added Theron. Meanwhile, US Global Aids Ambassador Deborah Birx said one-third of African women reported that their first experience of sex was violent.
“Sexual violence is a common phenomenon, including in the US where one in five women at colleges have been sexually assaulted,” said Birx, who was speaking about the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-Free, Mentored, and Safe initiative (DREAMS), aimed at empowering young women in South Africa.
In 2000, activists stormed the International Aids Conference in Durban and forced global leaders to provide antiretroviral treatment to developing countries. Returning to Durban 16 years later, Asia Russell, the executive Director of the Global Access Project, applauded the dramatic advances in HIV science but warned developing countries would continue to struggle with access to treatment if the Global fund is not replenished: “There are still 20 million people that need the antiretroviral treatment all over the world,” said Russell.
Read: Planning for the future with HIV
“At the moment, HIV treatment science has shown us that we can treat more people, but governments continue to contradict themselves by promising an end to the Aids crisis and yet cutting down on the funding,” added Russell. The activists’
march called for the UN secretary General Ban Ki- Moon, together through UNAids, to convene an emergency funding conference to secure at least $7 billion per year for the next five years to find HIV programmes.
Meanwhile, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) chairperson Nkhensani Mavasa appealed to UN leaders to “talk sense to African member states” who “criminalised key populations especially the LGBTI community” and saw civil society as the enemy.
Discriminatory laws prevent many people from getting HIV treatment, particulaly men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and prisoners. One-third of new infections globally are in these “key populations”, according to UNAids.
“We will not end Aids without addressing the needs of the most vulnerable individuals and communities, yet far too many are currently being left behind,” said Chris Beyrer, Aids 2016 International Chair and President of the International Aids Society.
“Protecting human rights is not just a moral issue, it is a scientific issue. Research presented at this conference will demonstrate that exclusion and discrimination help fuel the spread of HIV.”
Compared to the general population: transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV; men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs are each 24 times more likely to become infected with HIV; sex workers are 10 times more likely to become infected; and prisoners are five times more likely to be living with HIV. - Health-e News
Massive drop in new HIV transmission among African kids
60 percent of sex workers are HIV positive
South African youth Aids mortality rate has doubled
Health-e News is South Africa’s award-winning dedicated health news service producing news and in-depth analysis for the country’s print and television media.