Fighting stigma, social exclusion and discrimination make up the next frontier in work to accelerate the end of HIV as an epidemic. While we have made breathtaking progress against the disease in recent years, our advances have often masked inequalities.
Stigma and discrimination continue to fuel the spread of HIV. More than 7,000 girls and young women are infected with HIV every week around the world. Among key populations such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs, HIV is still a big challenge. Too many people are left behind. To drive down infections among the most vulnerable, we must find a way to stop stigma and discrimination.
I am inspired by the remarkable work of Madame Akie Abe, the first lady of Japan, who is calling for dignity and respect for people affected by the disease. Madame Abe has campaigned for an end to stigma and discrimination and other injustices that expose people to the virus. She has called on us to play our roles is saying no to these injustices and obstacles that continue to drive the spread of the virus.
In her work with L’Oreal Japan, she has worked to promote AIDS awareness in her country. When she became a member of the UNAIDS Lancet Commission in 2014, she made a personal statement about learning to be a fighter for prejudices that continue to predispose people to diseases. She also spoke about committing herself to amplifying the voices of those affected by HIV. During the TICAD VI meeting in Nairobi in August, she joined African first ladies to advocate for bigger investments in maternal and child health in Africa.
In the Global Fund partnership we consider voices like Madame Abe’s, which call for building of a more inclusive human family, to be fundamental to ending HIV and other epidemics and to achieving human security.
Madame Abe’s work in HIV has a strong association with her country’s leadership in global health. Japan has been a strong partner of the Global Fund partnership, providing both financial and intellectual leadership. The Global Fund traces its roots to Japan, where leaders at the G8 Summit in Kyushu-Okinawa in 2000 called for the creation of such a global financing organization for the three epidemics. Just last month, the Global Fund completed its Fifth Replenishment Conference, raising more than $12.9 billion. Japan was a key player in this contribution, with a pledge of US$800 million for the next three years, a 46 percent increase since the last replenishment when calculated in yen.
Like Japan, the Global Fund is a firm supporter of universal health coverage. The Global Fund partnership is expanding access to essential health services with the focus on HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, thereby alleviating the burden on health systems and accelerating universal health coverage.
To complete the great work that such strong investments can help us achieve, we will need the leadership and inspiration of leaders like Madame Abe. We must leave no one behind. We must say no to all forms of stigma and prejudice associated with HIV. It is the way to end it for good.