Leadership Key to AIDS Response

Masimba Biriwasha

Continued and committed leadership is crucial to getting and staying ahead of the AIDS epidemic.

Continued and committed leadership is crucial to getting and staying ahead of the AIDS epidemic, says UNAIDS Executive Director, Peter Piot, in a preface to a new publication titled South Asia: Portraits of Commitment – Why people become leaders in AIDS work.

The publication, commissioned by the UNAIDS' Asia Pacific Leadership Forum (APLF) on HIV/AIDS and Development, portrays people in South Asia who have gone way beyond the line of duty to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

In effect, the publication highlights how people from diverse backgrounds rise above the challenges posed by AIDS to demonstrate concrete acts of leadership.

"Leaders are distinguished by their action, innovation and vision; by their personal example and engagement of others; and by their perseverance in the face of obstacles and challenges," states Piot.

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When leaders take action in their communities, it can influence the change required to tackle the socially driven vectors of the epidemic such as the low status of women, homophobia, HIV-related stigma, poverty and inequality.

Although political commitment and leadership on AIDS is greater than ever before, there's need to think in the long term if the response to the epidemic is to be effective.

"Long-term sustainability does not mean looking five or ten years ahead, but twenty-five years and more because the AIDS epidemic, tragically, will not end of itself anytime soon," adds Piot.

In other words, there's need to sustain every part of the AIDS response over the long-term in order to have future generations that are free from AIDS.

"We need many things to make this commitment a reality. Not least adequate funding for AIDS programs must be made available," says Piot.

"The money that is mobilized must be made to work for those who need it most. We must advance scientific innovation for new medicines and for women-controlled prevention technologies and at the same time, ensure that these are made universally available."

Only through understanding and compassion will there be an impact on halting the spread of HIV.

Resources and leadership are required to influence action against HIV and AIDS, and not the groups of people infected or affected by the disease.

The challenge of AIDS is perhaps the greatest that humanity has ever faced but the fact of the matter is that through it much has been done to respect human rights and individual choice where once there was little or no respect for such rights.

"Securing success will require an unprecedented, united response from leaders, communities and individuals the world over for the next few decades, at a very minimum," states Piot. "Confronted with the exceptional challenges posed by AIDS, we have no choice but to act in exceptional ways."

Leadership comes from a desire to make things better – doing what is needed rather than what is expected or popular, reads part of the report.

In sum, leadership helps to unravel the invisibility of the AIDS epidemic thereby directing resources to where they are most needed, and in the process helping humanity to face its greatest threat.

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