Need for People-centered Approaches to Combating HIV/AIDS a Key Focus of AIDS 2018

July 24 was a star-filled day at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018), with calls to action delivered by Sir Elton John; Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex; and Charlize Theron.

Sharing her experience growing up in South Africa, a country she said was brought to its knees by the AIDS epidemic, actress Charlize Theron said the battle against the virus is “inextricably linked to the centuries-long fight for equality, dignity, and human rights. And the only way to win this fight is by shifting power. By investing directly in the people who have been shut out, oppressed, and pushed out to the margins. By elevating local voices, supporting community leadership – especially our young people. By spreading opportunity access and the tools to live healthy lives. … Numbers and outcomes are very important, but not as important as treating people as people.”

Speaking about the lessons we’ve learned from the 37-year-long battle against the AIDS pandemic following the day’s opening plenary session, Prince Harry stressed, “We succeed when we put people at the heart of our strategies … when we focus on the reality of the children born with the virus … when we respect the young woman at risk due to the behavior of her partner … when we try to understand the perspective of the man who lacks access to information and testing … when we harness the huge potential of people living with HIV to help guide the delivery of services and the campaign against stigma … and when we create platforms for young people to shape and direct the services that they rely on.”

Prince Harry and Sir Elton John during a conference session focused in the work of the Elton John Aids Foundation, which earlier this year initiated a grants program to help address the swiftly growing epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. (Photo: Robin Utrecht/Rex via Shutterstock).

He then introduced Sir Elton John, who said, “Since I founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation a quarter of a century ago, an article of faith for us is that no one gets left behind. Our LGBT Fund in partnership with PEPFAR is part of that spirit. The LGBT community has suffered discrimination and isolation in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, which have added to HIV vulnerability and left too many people behind in accessing treatment. I am proud of what we have achieved with this Fund and hope its work can continue.”

In keeping with theme of AIDS 2018, “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges,” each of these headliners underscored the critical need to ensure access to care to adolescent girls, young women, and key populations that have historically been the hardest to reach.

It was also a busy day for AIHA’s team at the conference – they presented four posters highlighting the successes of interventions we’re implementing thanks to the support of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through our HIV/AIDS Twinning Center Program, which is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

These included two on our DREAMS Initiative project in Western Kenya, one on strengthening data management to improve the quality of HIV/AIDS-related health services provided by the Defence Forces of Zambia health facilities, and one on how we’ve implemented our twinning model to train mid-level medical and pharmacy cadres in South Africa.

On Wednesday, July 25, AIHA will present a poster developed in conjunction with our longtime partners the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) titled: “Adolescents, sexuality, and relationships among girls aged 10-14 in Homa Bay and Siaya counties, Western Kenya” (WEPED563).

Col. Floyd Malasha, MD, Head of the HIV Secretariat at the Defence Forces of Zambia and AIHA Country Director for Zambia Linda Nonde (center) chat with AIHA Program Director Dr. Inna Jurkevich during the poster session on Tuesday.

AIHA’s President & CEO David Greeley (left) discusses our South Africa initiatives with his Rabin Martin counterpart, Jeffrey L. Sturchio, who said, “These are the kinds of effective structural interventions in HRH/HSS that PEPFAR should be investing in across the continent.”

AIHA Country Director for Kenya and Uganda Silas Goldfrank shares some of AIHA’s work on our highly successful DREAMS Initiative project in Western Kenya, which has reached nearly 30,000 girls between the ages of 10-14 and is slated to expand in the coming year.

On Thursday, July 26, we’ll present, “In-service biomedical training in Kenya: Upskilling technicians on lab equipment critical to the HIV clinical cascade” (THPEE784).

If you are attending the conference, please stop by to learn more.

E-posters will also be made available on the conference website.