'Communities make the difference. Communities contribute to the AIDS response in many different ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the response remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the centre and leaving no one behind.' UNAIDS: World AIDS Day 2019.
Over 30 years ago, a small, dedicated group came together to act on the HIV pandemic in the UK. Through forming relationships, providing home-based care and establishing community with those living with HIV, they helped turn the tide on HIV in the UK.
This group were the first acet UK team, and 31 years on, we continue to work alongside communities of people, addressing the HIV pandemic globally.
In the UK today, less than 1% of the population are living with HIV, and 98% of those are on treatment.
However, the HIV pandemic is far from over, as AIDS related deaths are the leading cause of death of young people in Africa. Every day in Sub-Saharan Africa, 750 girls and women are newly infected with HIV.
Three of the countries most affected by this are Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. In these countries, acet UK’s international partners, ACET Nigeria, ACET DRC and the Nehemiah Project, Zimbabwe are embedded within communities that are affected by HIV. By equipping church leaders, peer educators and counsellors to raise HIV awareness and provide testing and support, these organisations are empowering young people to be agents of change, helping them to contribute to the UNAIDS goal of no new HIV transmissions by 2030.
In Zimbabwe, poverty and gender inequality have left many women and girls turning to sex work to survive: one told us, “I do sex work to provide for my children, so they can go to school and have a good life.” Sadly, this leaves women and girls incredibly vulnerable to HIV. Demand for unprotected and risky sexual activity, as well as a lack of autonomy of sex workers, means nearly 60% are living with HIV (UNAIDS 2019).
In 2020, the Nehemiah Project will train 50 girls and women, who are currently engaged in sex work, as peer educators. These ladies will then share sexual health messages with 3,400 of their peers, and provide access to HIV testing and treatment. The project will also provide business and vocational training, enabling peer educators and others to exit sex work.
In Nigeria, the same themes of gender inequality and poverty leave young people vulnerable to HIV, as does lack of access to antenatal care. Indeed, positive mother to child transmissions account for 25% of new infections in Nigeria, and AIDS related deaths amongst young people are on the rise (AVERT 2019).
In 2020, ACET Nigeria will provide HIV education through their community outreach, including weekly Kids’ and Esteem youth clubs, creating safer communities for children and young people, and challenging key drivers of HIV such as gender inequality. They will also address the gap in access to key services, by providing testing and referral to hospitals for treatment.
“I was married, how could I have HIV?” (Medicins Sans Frontier, 2019). This was the quote from someone who was diagnosed with HIV in Kinshasa - and highlights the need for comprehensive sex and relationships and education, as does the fact that 1 in 4 girls have experienced sexual violence in DRC (Tearfund, 2019).
ACET DRC will train individuals who hold influence within their own communities, such as church leaders and teachers, and will train young people as peer educators, promoting quality relationships and sex education through lessons, radio discussions and life skills clubs. They will also provide this education in schools for the deaf, ensuring ‘no one gets left behind.’
Your support will help us make all this work possible, transforming the lives of children and adults as we invest in communities to curb the tide on HIV.