Aids fight: Why communities must lead

What you need to know:

  • Together, let’s “Let Communities Lead” and create a more just and healthier world for all.

World Aids Day is being observed this year when the globe acknowledges something extremely significant that we have been advocating for a long time. The understanding is that placing key and vulnerable populations at the forefront of the fight is the first step toward eliminating the HIV/Aids pandemic.

That is precisely what we have been urging lawmakers to do: to fully assist communities of people living with HIV and those at risk of HIV in their efforts to save lives and remove barriers from their way. 

According to UNAID’s 2023 World AIDS Day Report, organisations representing communities affected by, at risk from, or living with HIV are at the forefront of breakthroughs in the HIV response. Consequently, communities facilitate access to person-centred public health services, foster trust, encourage innovation, oversee the execution of policies and programs, and hold service providers responsible.

Let me put this in perspective. We always visit health centres nationwide with government officials and development partners. I can’t help but be grateful for the government and development partners’ efforts to establish friendly spaces and community drop-in centres for community-based organisations.

We continue to see firsthand improved access to health care nationwide at such centres. And, of course, this has been made possible by the Ministry of Health, Uganda Aids Commission, development partners and civil society organisations who have worked tirelessly for decades. Ugandans can now freely access health services such as ARVs, PrEP, and PEP without worrying about prejudice or stigma. 

Furthermore, robust health systems that allow healthcare providers to implement tailor-made programming that responds to the specific needs of patients have been put in place. I must acknowledge the government’s collaboration with development partners and community-led monitoring that has led us here as a country.

From this, one thing has become clear. Since communities are the lifeblood of our response, every aspect of our work must incorporate their leadership responsibilities. Key and vulnerable population communities must be central to all HIV programmes, from planning and budgeting to implementation, monitoring, and assessment. Their firsthand knowledge and wisdom are priceless in formulating successful plans. To put it plainly, nothing should happen around us without us.

And this can be achieved. For example, according to the Presidential Fast-Track Initiative on ending AIDS by 2030, there has to be a strong focus on engaging men in prevention, accelerating test and treat, eliminating mother-to-child transmission, ensuring financial sustainability, and enhancing institutional effectiveness. 

This commitment from Uganda’s highest office underscores the nation’s dedication to ending HIV, aligning with the global goal. It exemplifies how governments can play a pivotal role in combating HIV/Aids alongside community-led efforts.

But to fully utilise community leadership, we also need to remove the obstacles that stand in their way. The HIV/ Aids Prevention and Control Act has, for example, been receiving a lot of criticism for further promoting HIV/Aids stigma due to some of its provisions that criminalise persons living with HIV. 

Therefore, laws that uplift rather than injure people and defend everyone’s human rights—including those of marginalised communities—must be made and those against repealed. Enacting laws that promote advancement and removing those that impede it is equally crucial.

Therefore, let’s keep in mind that community empowerment is the key to our collective success as we evaluate our progress in the battle against HIV/Aids. By acknowledging community leadership, we recognise the power of variety, the value of inclusivity, and the possibility of revolutionary change. We have to dedicate ourselves to a day when HIV/Aids will not be an epidemic in Uganda or anywhere else in the globe.

On this World Aids Day, let’s reaffirm our commitment to the cause, honour the communities that spur advancement, and collaborate nonstop until we can say with pride that HIV has been eradicated.

Together, let’s “Let Communities Lead” and create a more just and healthier world for all.

Richard Lusimbo, Health and Human Rights Activist and a member of The Global Council on Inequality, AIDS, and Pandemics.