Is South Sudan’s losing battle on HIV/AIDs?

The fight Against HIV AIDs in South SudanThe fight Against HIV AIDs in South Sudan

South Sudan backtracked in the war against HIV/AIDS in the past year with the prevalence of the pandemic shooting.

The Chairperson of HIV/AIDS Commission (SSAC) Dr Esterina Nyilok, said during the international commemoration of World AIDS Day that the national HIV prevalence for adults is estimated at 2.1 percent which translates into 173,000 people living with HIV.

Nyilok attributed the surge in new infections to the laxity of the government in rolling out mitigation measures against the HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics. She also faulted the SSAC’s lethargy in stepping up to prevent infections over the past year.

“There has been an increase in the number of people living with HIV enrolled in treatment compared to 2021,” she lamented.

She added, “However, despite this advance, stigma and discrimination still persist for many people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.”

She said ignorance played a part in the new cases, emphasising that “there are still people with limited knowledge of the facts about how to protect themselves, while others fear knowing their own status.”

To solve this, Nyilok suggested that the commission and the Ministry of Health’s national AIDS and STI Control Program should change the narrative by ensuring that standard models and care are used across all health facilities, and expanding prevention, treatment, and care services at an unprecedented rate in 2023.

She urged citizens to be cautious in order to prevent the virus from spreading.

“World Aids Day is an opportunity for all South Sudanese to remind themselves that HIV is still a reality and that it is incumbent on all of us to continue fighting prejudice, stigma, and discrimination to mitigate HIV,” Dr. Nyilok said.

UNAIDS released a new set of ambitious targets in December 2020, calling for 95 percent of people living with HIV to know their HIV status, a similar number of people diagnosed with HIV infection to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; those on antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression by 2025. It was adopted by United Nations member states in June 2021 as part of the new HIV/AIDS Political Declaration.

Nyilok explained that South Sudan would miss the global targets due to the lack of progress in combating newer infections.

“Missing these intermediate targets will make it even more difficult to achieve the end of AIDS by 2030,” she noted.

She advised South Sudan to view “HIV prevention, treatment, and care services as an investment and to work toward a country where all citizens have access to the health care they deserve.”

“Whether you are poor or rich, disabled or abled, old or young; urban or rural, citizen or foreigner, access to health is a fundamental human right and a means to economic prosperity.”

The government must prioritize health spending in order to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) and re-establish momentum in the fight against these diseases.

“This may necessitate more funding for the HIV response from domestic resources in addition to external resources to meet feature health obligations,” she added.

The HIV chairperson was speaking at the Global HIV Day commemoration in Juba. This year’s National Day is themed “We are in this together.”

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