Netherlands ambassador to Zimbabwe Zambia and Malawi Margret Verwijk says her country will continue funding the READY (Resilient and Empowered Adolescents and Young people) programme as it encompasses their goal to end Aids.
Verwijk said this during a side meeting dubbed the READY summit at the ongoing International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Harare where she called for continuity in the fight against HIV and Aids.
“The Netherlands is providing this substantial and long term support because we know that bodily autonomy and informed sexual and reproductive decision-making is vital to the wellbeing and happiness of individuals and their communities,” she said.
“And we know that the fight to end HIV must continue, because the progress made is fragile and can be lost.
“Now, new issues are emerging that have a negative bearing on public health. Climate change, migration, and growing inequality for example.”
She said there was need to celebrate good progress made over the years with new HIV infections having fallen by 38% and Aids-related deaths by about half since 2010 in the Southern Africa region, which remains the epicentre of the pandemic.
“We are now in an age when a person living with HIV can lead a full and happy life, as is their right,” Verwijk said.
“These gains are built off a diversity of action, as those at the forefront including the organisations under the READY+ programme, address not just HIV and its treatment, but the underlying drivers.”
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Verwijk said drivers such as inequality, stigma and limited access to resources, information, and services are the project's main focus.
She said HIV is also spread when bodily autonomy and sexual rights are violated.
“These challenges overwhelmingly affect young people, and people that deal with stigmatisation in the region, including LGBTI persons, sex workers, and differently abled people,” Verwijk said.
“This is deeply unfair, a great injustice, a violation of human rights that must be stopped.
“This is why today is so important. Bringing together people that identify with these groups in a safe space to discuss, learn, connect with each other… this is how a movement is built, and I support and congratulate you on this effort. In fact, the whole READY+ movement is grounded on principles and values such as equality, inclusivity, accountability, diversity, and intersectionality.”
She hailed civil society organisations for soldering on despite all the many challenges that their work brings, especially in difficult contexts such as in Zimbabwe, saying civil society organisations continue to do the urgent and lifesaving work that is needed.
“And by including young people, by putting them in the lead on the issues that affect their lives, projects like this are able to achieve long-term visions through more targeted, context-appropriate approaches,” she said.
“And because the work is better done with an injection of creativity, energy and optimism, that young people bring.
“By fighting the spread of HIV and Aids and improving sexual health and rights together, we are investing in a happier and more prosperous future for all.
“Since the fight is still far from over, let’s all work together to make sure this continues. The Netherlands will remain your ally in this important work.”
The Netherlands provides financial support through the Dutch Regional HIV/Aids and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights programme.
The support has been pushing for an end to HIV and the promotion of sexual health and rights for more than 15 years, providing around EUR10 million annually and is currently active in 10 countries.
The READY Summit was a one-day event, which focused on uniting young people living with HIV, adolescent girls and young women, young key populations, including, LGBTIQ+, sex workers, young people who use drugs, as well as young people with disabilities.
The summit provided a platform for these diverse groups to unite, share experiences, and work together towards ending Aids while addressing the underlying inequalities that fuel the epidemic.
The READY+ partnership includes organisations such as CANGO, Frontline Aids, Global Network of Young People Living with HIV, REPSSI, PATA PATA, and Zvandiri.