South Africa is hosting the 2016 International AIDS Conference this week, bringing together policy makers, healthcare professionals and persons living with HIV to evaluate the current state of the pandemic and plot a course for moving forward.
This year’s conference theme is Access Equity Now, calling on HIV stakeholders to recognize the injustices caused by violence and stigmatization that hinder the ability of vulnerable communities to access HIV prevention and treatment.
There were an estimated 17.8 million women in the world living with HIV in 2015. Studies show that violence against women and girls increases their risk of contracting HIV, and that women who reside in countries where laws protecting them are weak are at a greater risk of acquiring the virus.
“This conference comes at another crucial time in the HIV epidemic,” said Chris Beyrer, AIDS 2016 International Chair and President of the International AIDS Society. “To truly succeed in all places and for all people, we must ensure that every action we take is grounded in science, respects human rights, and is fully funded for success. If we don’t make the right strategic choices, we risk reversing hard-won gains. Delay is tantamount to defeat.”
The Conference is meeting after a year when funding from donor governments fell from $8.6 billion in 2014 to $7.5 billion in 2015, threatening the world’s goal to end AIDS by 2030.
In addition to medical research and access, the education and empowerment of young girls is a necessity to ending the pandemic. According to Planned Parenthood Global, over 380,000 girls are infected with HIV around the world each year. In sub-Saharan Africa, a key region of focus for the Conference, girls make up 71% of new HIV infections among adolescents. In South Africa, 17% of women 20-24 years of age are infected with HIV.