By Louise van Deth, Aidsfonds
In 2011, the Dutch Postcode Lottery had the vision and the courage to commit to the MaxArt programme in Swaziland, the country with the highest HIV prevalence in the world. Our ambitious goal was to improve the lives of people living with HIV and to drastically reduce the number of new HIV infections in Swaziland.
Our approach was controversial, but it worked. In only five years, the number of new HIV infections in Swaziland dropped by 44%. Our dream became reality.
Treatment as prevention
Today, there is scientific evidence that early treatment is good for your health and prevents HIV transmission. Seven years ago, treatment as prevention was still very controversial. This didn’t stop the Swazi government from taking the lead in this pioneering programme that focused on this approach. Regular testing, access to early antiretroviral treatment and lifelong retention in care and treatment were key elements of the MaxArt programme.
I was invited to attend the closing ceremony of the programme in December 2017, together with Margriet Schreuders from the Dutch Postcode Lottery. The party had already started when we arrived. In addition to speeches by programme implementers and community workers, there was traditional dancing and music.
I was particularly moved by a young woman in a red dress who spoke openly her HIV status. She takes her medicines every day and is not afraid of anything anymore. And I was touched by an older man, who said that his vision on HIV-related stigma had changed thanks to this programme. He now acts as a role model in his village by going for HIV testing himself and talking about HIV with other members in his community.
When we started the MaxArt programme in 2011, 31% of the Swazi population was living with HIV. It is impressive how this country has made a shift towards becoming a leader in the HIV response. I am proud that we have come this far and that Swaziland has become an example for other countries. And the work in Swaziland will continue, even after the festive closing event of the MaxArt programme. The government has committed to no new HIV infections by 2022.
Turning the tide
While Swaziland has clearly turned the tide, we see that in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the HIV epidemic is growing dramatically. It is time to focus more efforts on this region. With a new and innovative online project, Aidsfonds will work to improve access to prevention, treatment, care and support for key populations in Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
And again the Dutch Postcode Lottery is showing courage and commitment to the international AIDS response by supporting this programme. Together, we are ready to make a new dream come true: a world without AIDS.
The Dutch Postcode Lottery is an official donor of AIDS 2018.