Botswana was lauded for the amount of progress she has made towards achieving the United Nations set universal access targets, at the official launch of the country’s second national strategic framework for HIV and AIDS, 2010-2016, despite having one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, pointed out that accessibility of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support to those who need it was critical if equity was to be achieved.
“It is in this context that it pleases me to note that Botswana has been able to provide antiretroviral treatment to more than 80% of people in need. It has also made significant strides in preventing mother to child transmission of HIV, achieving over 93% coverage in 2009,”said Sidibe.
However, the UN official further indicated that more still needs to be done.
On that score, the official posited that progress has been uneven, adding that it was high time countries now move to take stock of what is working and what is not in the context of their existing strategic plans and to link future national progress in HIV and AIDS programmes to the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs).
Sidibe said, “We therefore urge countries to undertake an open and inclusive consultation process that brings together governments, development partners, civil society organizations, networks of people living with HIV and community groups to review the progress made in reaching country targets for universal access.”
Assurances were made to the effect that UNAIDS will support countries and regional bodies in carrying out the relevant reviews.
In a reciprocal tone, Lesego Motsumi, Botswana’s Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration responded thus, “Our success has been possible due to strong commitment on the part of our government, development partners and civil society to collectively set ambitious targets and overcome bottlenecks.”
“In this regard we welcome the UNAIDS call to review our progress made in achieving universal access to guide us in meeting the Millennium Development Goals,” Motsumi added.
The universal access movement was reportedly launched in 2006 when UN member states signed a political declaration to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Its aim was to ensure that people everywhere have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.
Countries, including Botswana have affirmed their commitments by setting ambitious national targets. In spite of this, progress towards these targets has varied with some countries exceeding some of their targets but not reaching others due to a range of numerous other factors.
Contributing to the discourse, David Ngele, a representative of the Botswana Network of People Living with HIV, stated modestly, “It is now time for people living with HIV, community groups and our governments to sit down together and talk honestly about where we are and where we need to go to change the course of the epidemic.”
The country and regional level reviews, which will take place in all regions of the world, according to UNAIDS head, will utilize the data collected for the 2010 country progress reports as the basis to identify barriers and strategies to meet their targets in 2010 and beyond.
Basing on that the UN agency is scheduled to convene, an international advisory team to analyze the review reports and make recommendations on how to redouble progress towards universal access.
Sidibe has pledged his commitment to ensure that regional bodies for political, social and economic cooperation are engaged in supporting this process, which will take place over the course of 2010.
“In Africa, this process will enable countries across the continent to measure their progress against the commitments made at the African Union in Brazzaville in 1996 to reach universal access by 2010,” he said.
The stipulated reviews and consultations will be expected to offer a platform to analyze existing approaches to HIV prevention, identifying gaps and priorities, and that “in the process it should catalyze a prevention revolution that aims for zero new HIV infections including the elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission.”
Accordingly, it will also help countries re-adjust their plans on access to HIV treatment based on the new treatment guidelines and to begin thinking about treatment 2.0 ─ a new generation of treatment options that are reportedly sustainable.
In addition, following on from the impact of the ongoing economic crisis and the ensuing cuts in national budgets and international aid investments, it is generally held that the vulnerabilities of national AIDS programmes may be seriously exposed.
Consequently, the reviews will include an assessment of current AIDS spending patterns and propose new investment options that are aligned to local epidemic trends, and increase efficiencies.
Batho Molomo, outgoing Coordinator of National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) could not conceal his delight at the presence of the UNAIDS chief, intimating that he was proud that inspite of the challenges that were an integral component of his mandate, the efforts and achievements of his organization had not been obscure for the international community to see.