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1 December 2022 | Sarah Hand, Avert CEO

Today, the HIV response – one of the world’s strongest and most successful global health movements – unites to remember the millions of lives lost to AIDS over the last 40 years and show our commitment to ending the epidemic.

UNAIDS, and other key institutions such as the Global Fund, now rightfully recognise that inequalities, demarcated on lines of gender, age, sexual orientation, economic status, religion, disability and ethnicity, drive the HIV epidemic. Inequality puts some people more at risk of getting HIV than others, yet less able to access the HIV and sexual and reproductive health services they need. This lack of access affects the quality of people’s physical and mental health, which has numerous social and economic consequences, perpetuating the cycles of inequality and vulnerability.

Knowledge is power

Understanding what good health is and how to attain it (what many people call health literacy) is essential for building the agency and self-efficacy we all need to exercise control over our health. And it is only by doing this that we will move closer to challenging and ending health inequalities.

We know that strategies to improve health literacy work – helping to empower people with the knowledge and confidence they need to look after their health . Digital health literacy strategies go even further, providing greater opportunity for people to access, engage, explore and share information and resources. Take Be in the KNOW, our digital brand that is helping young people understand, discuss and take action to protect their sexual health. Results from Zambia show that this is an approach that works.

We know that strategies to improve health literacy work – helping to empower people with the knowledge and confidence they need to look after their health.

Informed decisions

The HIV response now has more biomedical tools than ever before that can help bring an end to AIDS. But these tools mean nothing unless people have access to information on them, which they can use to make informed-decisions.

Take injectable PrEP. In October 2022, Zimbabwe became the first non-high-income country to approve its use for people at high risk of HIV. More recently, South Africa announced the first of a number of injectable PrEP pilots, and Botswana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda are likely to follow suit. This means that, more people will soon have genuine choice when it comes to HIV prevention. But people can only exercise that choice if they can get accurate, up-to-date, action-orientated information about injectable PrEP – what it does, how it works, whether it has any side-effects, where to get it – communicated in ways they will engage with and trust.

Or look at HIV treatment. The progress that many countries have made in ensuring more people now have access is incredible. But what is proving more challenging is enabling people to stay on treatment long-term. One of the issues here is treatment literacy. Understanding how treatment works, when and how to take it, what happens if you miss doses, the importance of treatment monitoring, the impact of nutrition, the options for swapping to different treatment if yours stops working – all of these things improve people’s experiences of HIV treatment, which can help them adhere to it. Having access to this information can address the health inequality that results in some people being on sub-standard, ineffective treatment.

That’s why, this World AIDS Day, we are standing in solidarity with UNAIDS’ Equalize agenda, and all those in the world who still experience barriers born of inequality that stop them claiming their right to good health – a right that all of us, no matter who we are, are entitled to.

Photo credit: iStock/PIKSEL. Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply health status or behaviour.