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On World AIDS Day activists cheer ‘small’ steps forward

(GIN) — South Africa mark ed World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 with a full palette of music — from the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra to the New Apostolic Church Cape Choir — at the Artscape Opera House in Western Cape. Hope Maimane of the Waterfront Theatre College offered a dance recital.

While some statistics are improving, AIDS activists warn belt-tightening in western countries may erase these hard-won gains.

“More HIV-positive people are living longer (in Kenya as a result of HIV treatment), so we are clearly moving in the right direction,” said Peter Cherutich, head of prevention at the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Program. But with over 80 percent of Kenya’s HIV programs depending on foreign funds, progress is unsustainable.

“In the event they stop funding these programs,” said Cherutich, “they would draw back the gains that have so far been realized.”

According to the advocacy group ONE, 16 sub-Saharan countries have reached the “beginning of the end of AIDS” —  a point when the number of new HIV infections is lower than the number of new patients receiving AIDS treatment in the same year.

Sadly, African governments have been shortchanging vital health programs even after pledging to set aside at least 15 percent of their annual budgets to healthcare by 2015. Only six countries — Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia — have met the target. Five other countries are spending at least 13 percent of their annual budgets on health, according to data compiled by the U.N. World Health Organization

A quarter of African Union member-states are now spending less on health than they were in 2001.

Paradoxically, one of Africa’s richest nations had one of the worst records for new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. In Angola, new HIV cases were up 47 percent — from 19,000 in 2011 to 28,000 in 2012. AIDS-related deaths rose from 8,400 in 2001 to 13,000 in 2012. Drug treatment for adults and children was also very low. Less than one quarter of eligible children and less than half of adults had access to treatment in 2012 under 2010 guidelines from the World Health Organization.

After a meeting with UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe, Angolan President Jose dos Santos pledged no baby would be born with HIV by 2015 and every Angolan living with HIV would have access to treatment. “Angola still has a long road ahead to overcome the HIV epidemic,” he admitted, “but we will do it together.”

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