We can rid the globe of AIDS

EMOTIONAL is just one of the array of feelings that I felt at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne last week.

I felt saddened by the loss of everyone on board MH17, including six conference delegates, who were cruelly taken from us on that dreadful Friday.

Uplifted describes how I felt when I heard a vaccine breakthrough for HIV could be a real possibility. Inspiration overcame me when a breakthrough in treatment for tuberculosis, the leading killer of people living with HIV, was announced.

Hope managed to cover me like a blanket all week. I’m hopeful that a nation like Australia – one that clearly values the preciousness of life – can help us achieve not only an AIDS-free generation, but a tuberculosis and malaria-free generation, in our lifetime.

I packed hope with me on my journey across the Bass Straight to your wonderful island state of Tasmania. I’m here to ensure we continue to step up the pace against AIDS and the other deadly diseases of poverty that afflict our world.

In 2009, 35 countries in the Asia-Pacific region were home to five million people living with HIV; 8.5 million cases of TB were reported and there were 131 million suspected malaria cases.

On Monday, as part of my humanitarian work with anti-poverty organisation RESULTS International (Australia) I visited a school in Hobart where a group of children organised Moonah Malaria Month.

Impressively, children as young as eight have held an auction, sold jewellery and children’s art to raise money for the United Nation’s initiative Nothing But Nets, which provides malaria-preventing bed nets to my home continent of Africa.

I felt incredibly moved by their selfless acts especially as I lost a band member to the disease a decade ago. But it shouldn’t be up to their generation to solve the world’s ills – it should be up to us.

During my stay I have met many of Tasmania’s prominent politicians, including the Member for Dennison Andrew Wilkie, Greens Leader Christine Milne, and Senator Lisa Singh, in an effort to encourage supportive efforts to end AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria once and for all.

Encouraged is how I felt after both meetings. From 2004 to 2013, Australia contributed $400 million to The Global Fund, our best fighting tool against these diseases. In this period The Global Fund invested $4 billion in the Asia-Pacific, emphasising our region’s importance in the fight.

Since 2002, this lifesaving organisation has treated 6 million people for TB, supplied 29 million malaria-preventing bed nets, and provided vital testing kits for 38 million people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific.

On the opening day of AIDS 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss confirmed Australia’s investment to The Global Fund but I am committed to see this number rise as it falls way too short to ensure the end of the three deadliest diseases of poverty.

To ultimately win the fight we collectively need US$15 billion over the next three years. If Australia could deliver just a little more – $125 million – it will mean hope for the millions of people who live with HIV and for the millions of sufferers with TB and malaria.

We should all feel heartened by the fact that progress against these major killers is being made. In my home country of South Africa we have stepped up the pace against HIV and TB.

In the late 1990s, my country had the fastest growing AIDS epidemics in the world, but the prevalence of the disease has remained relatively stable and we’re now funding our own antiretroviral treatment (ART) program.

More than 400,000 South Africans are receiving ART care annually. Since 2013, diagnosis and treatment for TB has reached 11.2 million people, and 360 million insecticide-treated nets have been distributed to families to protect them from malaria.

Total mortality from AIDS, TB and malaria has decreased by 40 per cent since 2000 – that’s inspiring. Now, more than ever, the world needs inspiration and inspirational leaders.

I would like to see the Australian Government give just that little more because the world is at a tipping point if we do not defeat the diseases now as there is a very real risk that they could re-surge in new and powerful forms which we may not have the tools to fight.

We can and must be the generation that defeats AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a world-renowned singer, a UNICEF Ambassador, advocate for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and the president of The Princess of Africa Foundation.

Published in The Mercury on July 30, 2014.




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