AU endorses new initiatives to end AIDS
Alpha Conde, AU chair

African heads of state have endorsed two major new initiatives to help end AIDS epidemic on the continent by 2030, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has said.

The initiatives were endorsed at the AIDS Watch Africa Heads of State and Government Meeting during the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, according to a statement by the UN agency.

The community health worker initiative aims to accelerate progress towards achieving the 90–90–90 targets by 2020.

This means 90 per cent of all people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 per cent of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment and 90 per cent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads, and to lay the foundation for sustainable health systems.

Championed by the President of Guinea and African Union Chair, Alpha Condé, the initiative seeks to confront the acute health workforce shortages across Africa and improve access to health services for the most marginalized populations, including people living in rural areas.

“Recruiting two million community health workers is a critical step towards achievement of the Africa-wide socio-economic transformation envisioned in the African Union’s Agenda 63.

“Few tools have the ability of community health workers to drive progress across the entire breadth of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Condé said.

Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn, said “sustainable community health work is a matter of survival and development in Ethiopia.

“My community health workers have made better health happen, and achieving universal health coverage is not possible without building community health systems.”

Endorsing the new initiatives, Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, said “complacency gives birth to regression of the gains made in reducing HIV prevalence.

“We in Uganda have rekindled the campaign to end AIDS; the science exists, as well as the medication. We can win this battle.”

The UN agency estimated that there were more than one million community health workers in Africa currently but most focused on a single health problem and are under-trained, unpaid or under-paid, and not well integrated in health systems.

The new initiative endorsed by AIDS Watch Africa seeks to retrain existing community health workers, where feasible, and to recruit new health workers to reach the two million targets.

While community health workers may hold the key in many settings to achieving the 90–90–90 targets, the benefits of this new initiative extend well beyond the AIDS response, UNAIDS said.

The new initiative is aligned with the World Health Organisation’s Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health, according to the UN HIV/AIDS agency.

At the AIDS Watch Africa meeting, the participants also called on member states and development partners to support the AU campaign to eliminate new HIV infections among children and keep mothers alive as part of the ‘Start Free Stay Free AIDS Free’ collaborative framework, it said.

AIDS Watch Africa is a statutory entity of the AU with the specific mandate to lead advocacy, accountability and resource mobilization efforts to advance a robust African response to end AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030.