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Carving a Way Forward in the Fight Against HIV

By: Catherine Nyambura, Women Deliver Young Leader

It has been 30 years since Kenya’s first case of HIV was diagnosed. The efforts to fight HIV/AIDS have been bittersweet, with a lot of lessons, challenges, and opportunities. The International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) provides just the platform to reflect on the journey thus far and to carve a way forward.

ICASA2015, held in Zimbabwe, was marked with pomp, and many opportunities to learn. Most importantly scientists, civil society organizations (CSOs), young people, governments, UN Agencies, and other multilateral institutions were present, sharing their efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe put its best foot forward, hosting more than 5,000 delegates from all over the world to participate in this global effort to end HIV/AIDS.

Building on the political moment of the SDGs

ICASA 2015 happened at the backdrop of a defining moment in history, just when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. In these goals, development across environment, social, economic, and environmental aspects contains a stand-alone goal of achieving health and wellbeing for people of all ages. The theme of the conference was “Linking Leadership, Science, and Human rights,” which resonated well within this moment.

‘Leave No One Behind’

During the post 2015 development agenda, which ultimately bore the Sustainable Development Goals, the slogan used most often was ‘Leave No One Behind.’. While we have had some success fighting HIV/AIDS, our footprints in this fight are a depiction of the inequalities and imbalance in our society. The face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is very feminine and is getting younger by the day. 

LGBTQ persons, adolescents, injecting drug users, and other at-risk populations have been edged out of the HIV response due to restrictive laws and pervasively punitive cultures. This despite the fact that these populations are most at risk and now bear the disproportionate burden of the epidemic. We must leave no one behind; we must not be selective in defining human rights or choosing whose rights to respect. This message reverberated from the conference. It is those we have left behind for whom we have to inevitably work.

Taking Stock of Where We are and How to Move Forward

The conference prominently featured community interventions, research milestones, and the success rate of past policies However, it was clear to me that much more political will is needed to keep HIV/AIDS at the top of the African political agenda. This is especially true if we are to sustain what are seemingly good strides, from providing more people with treatment to tackling specific aspects of the epidemic, such mother-to-child transmission. At the same time, domestic health care funding must be a priority and African governments must work harder to ensure sufficient resources in order to sustain the momentum and make ending AIDS a reality.

My experiences as a Women Deliver Young Leader and as a panellist on a special session on HIV and Family Planning linkages at ICASA have made me a more passionate advocate for ending HIV. We must be exhaustive, coordinated, and thorough in both our response to HIV and in our work to combat it. We must be integrated in our approach to people’s health so that no one is left behind. Critically, we must respect human rights and shape leadership in our response to HIV.

Catherine works with Dandelion Kenya, a grassroots organization based in Nakuru, Kenya which focuses on implementing comprehensive sexuality education programs, working with young advocates ensure the voices of young women and girls are heard, and advocating for access to safe abortion across rural Kenya. As part of her role at Dandelion Kenya, Catherine chairs the Women Global Network for Reproductive Rights Alliance Kenya (WAK), a network of organizations throughout Kenya all working to advocate for safe abortion. Catherine has engaged with various policy processes including the ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing+20 review, and the post-2015 development agenda. She sits on the interim steering committee of the African CSO Coalition on Population and Development (ACCPD). Catherine is part of the African Youth Taskforce on Post-2015, championing African youth priorities within the post-2015 development agenda. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biomedical Science and Technology. Follow her on twitter at @catherinenyamb1.

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