Inventing the end of AIDS is premature and dangerous

Published: October 14, 2014

Sisonke Msimang

We have reached a critical juncture in the story of AIDS. The headline news is that the world is on the brink of ending this enduring epidemic. Like many others who have dedicated their lives to battling this deadly disease, I hope this will be true one day. But this is no time for complacency.

There are still 35 million people globally who are living with HIV in their bodies. There are still daily assaults on the rights and dignity of women, girls and people who are gay, transgendered, sex workers, prisoners or drug users. And the structural drivers of inequality and injustice that have always shaped this disease remain firmly in place 30 years into this epidemic. The war on AIDS is not over yet.

In recent years, I have had many misgivings about the state of the AIDS response. I have watched with growing disquiet as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has published its global report on the state of AIDS each year, increasingly taking on the voice of a cheerleader, applauding country efforts, commending progress and being the bearer of good news.

Last year’s UNAIDS’ report inspired a premature editorial in The Economist, asking, “How was the AIDS epidemic reversed?” For those of us who have fought AIDS and its devastating consequences for the last few decades, the question was inappropriate. I started talking with others about whether the strategy of good cheer wasn’t backfiring on the AIDS movement.

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