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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

‘We are in the last lap of AIDS battle’, says Winnie Byanyima

In India, where you have 2.1 million people living with HIV, just 1.2 million are on treatment (2017 data). You clearly have a challenge of getting 900,000 people on to treatment.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2019 03:22 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, 2014. Photographed by Alex Baker Photography.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, 2014. Photographed by Alex Baker Photography.
         

Countries must work closely with communities to focus on prevention and detection measures, including scaling up self-testing and access to antiretroviral therapy, to stop AIDS, Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS executive director, told HT’s Sanchita Sharma in an interview.

Have the world won the battle against AIDS?

I’d say we are in the last lap (to tackle AIDS). We have been successful in getting people to test and come for treatment; there are 24.5 million people on treatment, which helps them lead healthy, long lives. It has helped reduce AIDS-related deaths by one-third in the last nine years. On the side of prevention, we have not been as successful. We have seen new infection actually increasing in some regions. But there has also been remarkable success, for instance, in southern Africa where new infections have reduced by 40% in nine years.

What should be India’s focus?

In India, where you have 2.1 million people living with HIV, just 1.2 million are on treatment (2017 data). You clearly have a challenge of getting 900,000 people on to treatment.

I think you have done very well in India because you’ve been able to pass laws to ensure that people are not discriminated against. These are the things you need to do and enforce to ensure everyone with HIV is on treatment.

Young women (15–24 years) are twice as likely to be living with HIV as men. Why is the risk higher?

There is discrimination and violence against women and girls. I know your country is working hard on violence against women, I hear there is a huge community-led movement across the country working to fight the AIDS epidemic and to fight violence against women.

Is self-testing the way ahead? Should it be a part of policy?

Yes, absolutely. Self-testing and other innovations that bring services to people who are denied rights in safety and with no judgment are very important tools. Self-testing is a real game-changer for gay people who are in countries where they are treated under downright criminalisation.

It’s a game-changer for girls and young women because girls and young women face action for stepping out of the sexual norms of their community.