The British Government has made some impressive commitments to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. I am incredibly proud of the huge number of children we’re vaccinating, girls we’re educating and families we’re providing with clean water.
But one of our most challenging ambitions involves the smallest number – 0. The UK remains committed to the vision of getting zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. This matters as much to people in Britain as it does to the poorest parts of the world. Infections do not respect borders.
I am currently in Southern Africa – the global epicentre of the HIV epidemic – to see how the Department for International Development’s support is making an impact on the ground and review how British development aid can be made even more effective.
Although we are not going to reach our eventual targets of “the three zeros” overnight – we will reduce by at least 500,000 new HIV infections among women in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. In the last year alone, we’ve developed four new HIV prevention programmes in sub-Saharan Africa (Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and across the region). We are doing this by investing in a diverse range of projects, supporting civil society organisations, research and development, multilateral organisations (in particular our contribution to the Global Fund) and working with the private sector.
But more needs to be done. There are an estimated 11.3m living with HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, an increase of nearly a third from ten years ago. Despite the increasing numbers on treatment, the number of people becoming newly infected each year still exceeds the number of new people treatment.
I am keen to know what more DFID can be doing and how we can do things differently to reach our eventual goal of ‘zero new infections’. As part of a review into our strategy, I met with the Deputy Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team, politicians from across Southern Africa and a range of NGOs as well as researchers. The high rates of HIV infection is closely linked to gender disparity and violence against women and girls, and I also met with South African counterparts and civil society stakeholders on how to jointly work on this important challenge.
What I heard was a message of hope and with so many people committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. My message to them, and for all those living with HIV/AIDS – including those in the UK as well as in Southern Africa – is that DFID will work harder and more flexibly to make what we do count even more. It is my hope that our work will count towards zero – zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.