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Calling Out Big Players Stalling Progress in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Africa

The head of UNAids, Winnie Byanyima, has strongly criticised pharmaceutical giants for prioritising profits over saving lives, and warned that “racist” inequalities are undermining progress towards ending Aids, especially in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than half of all new infections, with women and marginalised groups facing higher new infection rates. Aids-related illnesses were the leading cause of mortality among African women, and adolescent girls and young women were three times more likely than men to get HIV. “Many times, they don’t come forward for fear of society’s sanctions against them,” said Byanyima, stressing that girls and women should be able to access sexual and reproductive services privately. She knows well about the impact of the stigma of HIV. At a recent speech at the University of Nairobi Byanyima told a personal story about how her brother, who had HIV, stopped using antiretroviral (ARV) drugs when they returned home to Uganda, while he would use them with few issues when he lived in Europe. The injectable drug cabotegravir, for instance – administered every two months and considered the most effective form of prevention – is only available in high-income countries like the UK and the US, and even there remains largely unaffordable. Last year, Zimbabwe became the first African country to approve the drug for use, but with the country in economic crisis the drug remains effectively unavailable.