Today, the world community will come together to mark the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day. This year’s theme is “Know your status”. The only way to determine a person’s HIV status is for them to have an HIV test.
HIV testing is essential in expanding treatment and ensuring that all people living with HIV can lead healthy and productive lives. It is also crucial in ensuring that 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status; 90% of people diagnosed with HIV receive antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of people living with HIV, and who are on treatment, achieve viral load suppression. HIV testing empowers people to make choices about HIV prevention specifically how to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Significant progress has been made in the AIDS response since 1988, and today four in five (20.8 million) people living with HIV in the African Region know their status. In addition, more than three in five (15.3 million) people are accessing life-saving antiretroviral therapy. There is a more than 30% reduction in AIDS related deaths since 2010 and people living with HIV are leading longer, healthier lives thanks to the sustained access to antiretroviral therapy.
However, this progress is not uniform in our Region. For example, in West and Central Africa, only one in two (2.9 million) people living with HIV know their status. That is why WHO, partners and Member States in the sub-region are working together to accelerate the expansion of HIV testing programmes in order to reach people living with HIV who do not know their status and ensuring that they are linked to quality and prevention services.
Many such as young people and adult men are being left behind and others still only get tested after becoming ill. Stigma and discrimination still deters people from taking an HIV test. Access to confidential HIV testing is still an issue of concern. Many of those who are being left behind are those most affected by HIV, including people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men and prisoners.
As part of the new 5-year strategy for WHO, we are working with Member States in the African Region to strengthen their health systems and help them progress towards universal health coverage, so that all people have access to the services they need, without facing financial hardship. Universal health coverage offers an opportunity to expand HIV testing, prevention and treatment that is integrated with other programmes and services such as Tuberculosis, and sexual and reproductive health.
I call on countries to use the new HIV testing strategies and to choose a strategic mix of service delivery models to achieve universal and equitable access to HIV testing and counselling. We need to expand community-based options and innovations to reach beyond health facilities. We also have to build strong linkages to guarantee HIV prevention, care and treatment services after testing. In all this we need the political will; we need the investment from governments, partners and private sectors, and most of all, we need the communities to promote demand for HIV testing services.