Thirty years ago, the world woke up to the threat of HIV & AIDS and began to fight back. On this World AIDS Day – the opportunity to make AIDS history is within our reach – but we are at risk of undoing all of our hard work.

It’s been a hard fight but thanks to the tireless work of activists around the world, we’ve made huge progress and turned the tide in the HIV response. In the noughties new infections fell by 38% and progress in medicine means that for those that do still contract HIV, it no longer needs to be a death sentence. In fact we have made such good progress, the UN Global Goals, decided that ending AIDS altogether by 2030 is a possibility. And it is. But only if we step it up once again.

The UK should be proud in the role it played getting us this far. But for first time in decades, progress is stalling and we risk losing control. For us to have any chance of ending AIDS by 2030, we need an additional  $7 billion a year. Without these crucial funds, we look set to miss out on our target of ending AIDS by 2030. Despite this being a crucial time in the HIV response, we’re concerned that the UK is walking away rather than stepping up the HIV response.

The Department for International Development’s (DFID) HIV strategy has expired and there are no plans to renew it, funding for the HIV response is falling at an alarming rate, and ministers have missed the International AIDS Conference for years.

If we want to end AIDS by 2030 – we need serious programmatic, financial & political commitment from the UK Government. Complacency is a killer, if we don’t step it up – millions of young people will pay the price. Although young people are hit hardest by HIV&AIDS, it’s young people fighting back. This was highlighted to me by going to the STOPAIDS World AIDS Day Parliamentary Reception with a group of Youth Stop AIDS campaigners.

This World AIDS Day, STOPAIDS brought together civil society, parliamentarians, civil servants and youth campaigners together – and decision makers were aplenty. But were we sidelined as tokenistic young people; there to compliment the grandiose room with youthful vibes? No, it was young people who took control.

Firstly, the young activists on the panel delivered powerful speeches that resonated with everyone and urged them to up their efforts. Davi, 26, the sex-worker turned activist told his story of living with HIV and how he is supporting others to know and live with their status. Explaining how he ‘didn’t want any young people to have the same kind of bad experiences that I had’, he highlighted the importance of carrying on funding projects that work with the most marginalised in society. Because as Davi rightly points ‘we are not living in the movie of Harry Potter, where everyone will change by magic, so we have to work together’. This means sustainable financing for HIV.

Similarly Masedi, 22, from Botswana who was born with HIV, spoke on how she is using her experience of growing up HIV positive as motivation to educate and empower young people to lead. Next up was Horcelie – return ICS volunteer turned leading Youth Stop AIDS campaigner who was part of the Speaker Tour ‘17 team. Drawing on her experiences as a young Congolese woman with who had worked on both the domestic and global HIV response, she co-presented a much-needed charter of demands on how young people should be involved in the HIV response.

Our desire, expertise and passion for meaningful involvement in HIV response is demonstrated by how Youth Stop AIDS campaigners from the get-go were engaging with every MP and decision maker who walked through the door. Building relationships, presenting a clear case for the It Ain’t Over campaign and how MPs could support – we won the support of several high-profile parliamentarians and got lots of commitments. And of course there was always time for a casual selfie with Lord Jack McConnell, former First Minister of Scotland…   

Lord Jack McConnell with Youth Stop AIDS campaigners

Has our It Ain’t Over campaign actions (& selfies) been reaching DFID? Well Jonny Baxter, Head of Human Development at DFID, also spoke at the event and it sounds like he’s taking our campaign seriously. Jonny outlined how much more work is left to be done in HIV response, his Department’s continued commitment, and expressed a desire to have young people involved in every stage of the response. Knowing that Jonny and DFID agree that HIV&AIDS ‘Ain’t Over’ and want young people’s involvement is encouraging – we now look forward to working with them to make that a reality. 

Our It Ain’t Over campaign gives DFID practical suggestions as to how the UK Government can play a leading role in making AIDS history.:

Plug the funding gap: In particular, increasing the contribution to Robert Carr Networks Fund to support the most vulnerable groups affected by HIV.

Prioritise young people: Recognise HIV & AIDS as a youth issue within DFID programming

Show political leadership: Ensure Ministerial attendance at the next International AIDS Conference in 2018 and include a youth delegate in the UK delegation

We know what we have to do. We have the tools but we need serious political will and increased funding from the UK Government to help us finish the job. This World AIDS Day, Youth Stop AIDS campaigners are fighting back and ready to work with the Government to make AIDS history.

But this is everybody’s fight. Please take action with Youth Stop AIDS too – in less than a minute you can write to your MP to tell them that It Ain’t Over.

James Cole is the Youth Stop AIDS coordinator. To find out more about Youth Stop AIDS, visit their website.

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