Thirty-five years after first reports began to appear of a terrible new disease, known to us today as HIV/AIDS, the medical community has made tremendous progress in controlling the disease. Back in the 1980s, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence: the life expectancy of an infected person was two years. Today, with proper treatment, patients live relatively normal lives. And yet, despite enormous advance in treatment, we have not yet been able to eliminate this scourge. What will it take?
“One of the greatest obstacles is that treatment is not reaching all populations equally. These are populations at greatest risk, yet they are left behind, pushed further into the shadows in the global HIV/AIDS response,” said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, Deborah Birx.
“These are the key populations defined by UNAIDS as gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender persons, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and prisoners.”
Speaking at United Nations High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, Ambassador Birx said that “For these key populations, we must translate words of concern into immediate actions to ensure that specific barriers are addressed.”
That is why the United States government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has allocated $100 million to create a Key Populations Investment Fund. It will help to expand access to proven HIV prevention and treatment services for key populations.
Among the issues the new fund will address are the lack of acceptance of human rights of all persons; monitoring and mitigation of stigma and discrimination; access to quality services for key populations; collection of data by subgroups of key populations; and improving the capacity of key populations-led, community-based organizations who advocate for changes in policies, and also directly implement services.
“It is unacceptable that key populations still face stigma, discrimination, and violence, which impede their ability to access quality HIV services. PEPFAR stands firmly and unequivocally with and for key populations,” said Ambassador Birx, “and we are deeply committed to protecting and promoting their health and human rights.”