THE RIGHT TO HEALTH = ACCESS FOR HIV PREVENTION & TREATMENT FOR ALL
“My friend, I pray that everything may go well with you and that you may be in good health as I know you are well in spirit” (3 John 1 vs 2)
2017 HIV and AIDS Message to All
From ECM Health Commission
Today in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent marks the beginning of a new Liturgical Year, a journey that fills us all with hope for the coming Messiah. The first week of Advent coincides with the commemoration of the World AIDS Day. Therefore the Church today, joins the rest of the world in commemorating the World AIDS Day.
World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December each year, is a global initiative to raise the awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV and AIDS. World AIDS Day Commemoration provides an opportunity for all relevant stakeholders to focus on the HIV epidemic and emphasize the need for a committed, meaningful and sustained response to the epidemic. It is an important opportunity for governments, national AIDS programs, faith organisations including the Church, community organisations and individuals to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS and to remember our brothers and sisters who have died from AIDS related illnesses. As is the tradition, World AIDS Day commemorations are celebrated under a specific theme. The theme for Malawi this year is ‘“The right to health = Access for HIV prevention and treatment for all.”
1.1 THE HIV SITUATION IN MALAWI
Before we reflect on the theme for this year’s commemoration, let us look at the HIV and AIDS situation in Malawi. Malawi is one of the countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world. Although Malawi still has one of the highest prevalence, it has done well in controlling the epidemic in recent years. The HIV prevalence rate has dropped from 10.6% in 2010 to 9.2% in 2016. New infections have drastically declined from 98, 000 new infections in 2005 to 36, 0000 new infections in 2016. An estimated 24, 000 people died of AIDS related illnesses in 2016. An estimated 1, 000, 000 people were living with HIV as of 2016 of which 70% were accessing antiretroviral therapy.
The Malawian HIV epidemic varies greatly across the country in that HIV prevalence is higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Young people account for about 50% of new HIV infections in the country and the prevalence is higher in some young populations like the 15 – 17 year olds. A number of factors play a big role in the transmission of HIV in the country. Of notable interest is the early sexual activity in young men and women. HIV transmission among couples is still high.
Efforts to reduce the HIV epidemic have been made over the years at both national and local levels. Of particular interest is the realignment of the National HIV and AIDS Strategy (2015-2020) to the 90-90-90 targets set by Joint United Nations for HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and adoption of the test and start strategy. The 90-90-90 strategy aim to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 through the following targets: 90% of people living with HIV knowing their status, 90% of people diagnosed with HIV receiving antiretroviral treatment and 90% of people on treatment having suppressed viral loads. The test and start strategy calls for all people living with HIV to be initiated on antiretroviral therapy irrespective of the CD4 cell count or clinical stage.
Despite all these efforts, there are a number of challenges being faced in the HIV and AIDS response. One of the challenges is attaining the right to health.
2.0 THE RIGHT TO HEALTH = ACCESS FOR HIV PREVENTION AND TREATMENT FOR ALL
Malawi commemorates the World AIDS Day under the theme “The right to health = Access for HIV prevention and treatment for all”. As a Church we join the rest of the country in reflecting on this theme.
The right to health is more than access to quality health care. It is a range of important commitments and assurances including:
• Being treated with respect and dignity, free from discrimination.
• Gender equality.
• Adequate sanitation and housing.
• Nutritious food.
• Freedom from harm and access to justice.
• Being able to make decisions about one’s health.
The theme reminds us that health is a basic human right and that each individual has the right to the attainable standard of physical and mental health which includes access to all medical services, sanitation, adequate food, decent housing, and a healthy environment. Governments, and all other stakeholders, are endowed with the responsibility of ensuring that this basic human right is respected.
In the response to HIV and AIDS, the right to health means people having access to HIV prevention, treatment and care. Without the right to health, people cannot prevent HIV or get access to treatment and care. Malawi’s healthcare is facing a number of challenges that threaten the right to health of Malawians living with HIV. The current inadequate funding, shortage of medical personnel, long distances to and inadequate health facilities, shortage of drugs and medical supplies, and power blackouts are some of the challenges with health care in the country. How can people access HIV prevention, treatment and care when there are no or inadequate health personnel? How do Malawians access HIV prevention and treatment, when there are no facilities within walking distances? How do we ensure Malawians have access to drugs and medical supplies when they are in short supply?
To date 30% percent of people living with HIV are still not on antiretroviral therapy. The questions is do these people have access to ART? If they do, why are they not accessing treatment?
The Church continues the mission of Christ, the mission of bringing salvation to all people, of liberating men and women, boys and girls from all that binds them, thus freeing them to live lives that are fully developed in accordance with God’s vision, image and likeness in which all, male and female, are created (Gen1:27)
3.0 A CALL TO ACTION
In line with this year’s theme, the Catholic Health Commission calls upon all: government, organisations, the Clergy, the lay faithful and all people of goodwill to make deliberate efforts to ensure health is treated as a right. As we reflect on this year’s theme, we call upon:
The government through the Ministry of Health to:
• Ensure HIV prevention and treatment are accessible to all Malawians.
• Ensure that HIV prevention and treatment are available to all Malawians
• Ensure that health services are respectful, non-discriminatory, culturally appropriate and treat everyone with dignity
• Ensure that the services are medically appropriate and of good quality
• Fulfill budgetary commitments to enable Malawians realize their right to health.
The Church to:
• Invest in the capacity building of pastoral counsellors;
• Advocate for mutual faithfulness to married couples;
• Encourage all faithfuls to go for HIV testing and counselling
• Initiate and implement programs that promote abstinence for the youth;
• Integrate issues of HIV and AIDS especially prevention in all pastoral activities;
• Talk openly on sex education, sexuality and HIV and AIDS.
• Facilitate discussions around issues of sex and sexuality with the youths
• Organizing pastoral counselling training for church leaders, members and community leaders;
Let us all join the right to health campaign. Let us end the AIDS epidemic by 2030!
Rt Rev John Ryan
Bishop Chairman for Catholic Health Commission