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“I’m scared,” UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe tells media at AIDS2016 briefing

“I’m scared,” UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe tells media at AIDS2016 briefing

Michel Sidibe . © International AIDS Society/Marcus Rose

19 July 2016

By Bonginkosi Moyo-Bango

Michel Sidibe has some reasons to be happy when it comes to HIV and AIDS response: the reduction in AIDS-related deaths, the huge numerical increase in the number of people on anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and the ever-increasing number of babies born HIV free.

Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, spoke at the opening of AIDS2016. Despite all the strides made, Sidibe expressed a deep anxiety and fear.

“I’m scared because we are back in Durban 16 years later at a difficult time when the world is facing a number of competing priorities including terrorism, migration and so many other issues. I’m scared because I am seeing for the first time the decline in financing from donors; 13 out of 14 of our donors have reduced their contribution to the response. I’m scared because domestic financing has been increased. If we continue with this trend we will not be able to end AIDS by 2030. We will have a rebound in infections; we will have resistance, we will lose our investment and we will have to pay more later as we did with malaria.”

“I’m scared also because I am seeing the need to improve our health systems and we would like to see 1 million additional health workers trained; I’m scared because I’m not seeing a decline in new infections in adults and more young girls are being infected. We collectively need to call on the donors and make then understand that this is not the time to stop. If we stop now we will surely regret it.”

Sidibe hailed UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon’s commitment to social justice and equity and for introducing the words ‘dignity’ and ‘leave no one behind’ to the sustainable development agenda.

Olive Shisana, AIDS2016 local chair, stating that progress in HIV is at best precarious, urged focus going forward to be three-pronged: focus on structural reform of laws and policies that are a barrier to treatment; reinvigorate strategies for behavioural change; and make full use of all prevention tools at our disposal.

Renowned actress and founder of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project and UN messenger of peace, Charlize Theron declared that there needs to be more conversations about ending AIDS, not sustaining or maintaining it.

“We need to ask ourselves why we haven’t ended AIDS yet,” she stated.

Very passionate about adolescents and the potential role they can play in ending the AIDS epidemic, Theron said: “HIV is the number-one killer of adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa and the second in the world and yet there isn’t enough focus on them. We have made huge strides but we have neglected the adolescents. The current youth will be the generation to end AIDS if we bring them on board and allow them to be a real part of the conversation.”