2016 is a big year for HIV/AIDS. Strategy and investment meetings at the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will continue to shape the future of HIV/AIDS financing – and it’s not looking good; the 21st International AIDS Conference where scientific breakthroughs tend to be launched will take place in Durban in July; and the US government’s DREAMS project will be rolled out on a big scale. And then there is the ongoing bilateral cuts to HIV/AIDS financing.
All of these issues will have direct consequences for the women and communities we are working with on this film.
I argue in a short article published here that the gains made in the last fifteen years of War on HIV/AIDS have been mainly made in the uptake in treatment and greater public awareness and understanding of the disease. This is really noticeable in Miono. I am always sceptical of claims to success, having heard these claims often and not really seen the evidence of such success. However, having spent 10 years working in Tanzania, the impact of international and domestic efforts is clear in the number of children born HIV free as a consequence of pregnant women’s access to prevention of mother to child transmission services, and the number of people aged 30-40 taking regular anti-retrovirals as part of their everyday activities. One of the most striking findings of my recent trip was the small number of women in their 20s living with HIV – most of the women we met in Miono who were HIV+ were over 30, it was rare to find positive women in their 20s. This could be because they felt shy or self-stigmatised on account of their status and therefore did not want to meet with us, but it could also be that prevention messages are becoming more mainstream and initiatives to delay sex in young women are working. Most likely the explanation is a combination of all three.
These gains in treatment and prevention have not been easily reached. A lot of lives have been lost and money spent to get to this point. As I argue in my article, these gains are delicate wins and could easily be reversed, and whatever the claimed success we still have a long way to go to reach international targets set 16 years ago.
If international funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, care and prevention programmes is cut, the women who appear in our film will not be able to access the treatment they current have. The cost of the healthcare budget is both scary and deeply political for the government of Tanzania. The current prisoner’s dilemma between the government and international donors as to who pays for HIV/AIDS will continue even as international funds continue to decrease. The impact of such a dilemma will be most acutely felt in communities such as Miono.
It would seem every year is a ‘critical’ year for HIV/AIDS to reach specific goals, meet funding shortfalls, capitalise on the gains and all the policy soundbites you can think of. However, my prediction is that 2016 will be the year when AIDS activists fears are realised as the impact and affect of the cuts to HIV/AIDS budgets are most acutely felt.