Home > Feature > World AIDS Day 2019: Communities make the difference

On this year’s World AIDS Day, our Project Officer Sinead Murray highlights the pivotal role that communities play in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS. Misean Cara members work with communities to prevent the spread of the disease in more than 60 countries around the world by challenging stigma, discrimination, and laws that prevent notable progress to achieve the 90 90 90 target by 2020.

Communities are catalysts for change. Progress made over the last two decades in addressing barriers to prevention, treatment and care of people living with HIV and AIDS can be attributed to the resilience, unity and quest for the human right of health of communities across the globe. Without communities, AIDS related deaths would not have been reduced by more than 56% since the peak in 2004 and without communities AIDS related mortality would not have declined by 33% since 2010. 

Today, we know more than ever about combatting AIDS, so why is it that 37.9 million people are living with HIV and AIDS? Why is it that 8.1 million of those 37.9 million individuals do not know their status? Why is it that 6,000 adolescent girls and young women become infected with HIV every week?

The answer is barriers. Barriers such as user fees, hidden costs, harmful laws, stigma, discrimination, lack of knowledge and gender-based violence stand in the way of better health. Communities with access to knowledge, rights and power can change inequalities, power imbalances, marginalisation, taboos, stigma and discrimination, and have proven time and time again that through collective power, these barriers can be overcome.

Misean Cara members work with communities to fight against HIV and AIDS in countries in South America to countries in South East Asia, in many countries around the world. We witness, hear and read of courageous advocates, individuals and communities who are not bound by stigma, who recognise the value and connection between education and empowerment, who are challenging and breaking barriers and who are living positive lives. Communities are making the difference.

Si da Vida, a project managed by the Columban Fathers in Peru, and some of its clients protest in front of the Ministry of Health demanding a resolution to the shortage and partial rationing of antiretroviral medicines, as well as, the excessive costs of laboratory exams and medical consultations. Photo: Si Da Vida.

But communities cannot end this epidemic alone and their efforts cannot and must not replace the responsibility of governments, the duty bearers. The change we need requires elevated collective efforts by governments and communities. Success is being achieved and sustained where policies, projects and programmes focus on people, not just the disease. This is where the work of Misean Cara members stands out. Misean Cara members strive to ensure that communities are not only at the centre of projects or policies but have direct input from the planning right through to implementation, their voice must be heard at each step of the way. 

Eliwaja Samwell speaking to villagers as part of the outreach work of the Faraja Centre. She visits villages, hospitals and schools to encourage people to ascertain their HIV status so that, if they are living with HIV, they can access treatment and counselling to continue positively with their lives. Run by the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Faraja is considered by the Tanzanian government to be a centre of excellence in HIV treatment and prevention. Photo: The Faraja Centre.

On this World AIDS Day, Misean Cara commends the achievements of activists and communities in the struggle against HIV. Promoting human rights and changing harmful laws that act as barriers to ending AIDS is challenging and can be high risk. Their courage and determination have saved the lives of countless people and communities.