Each year, World AIDS Day presents an opportunity for individuals and communities to unite in the fight against HIV, to both show support for people living with the virus and meaningfully contribute towards efforts in loving memory of those who were taken by this pandemic. In 2015, South Africa hopes that this day will be another catalyst for the growing momentum in community responses to both HIV and TB, since co-infection is a huge issue in this part of the world.
Here in South Africa, as with many other countries struggling to reduce HIV rates, the communities most affected by HIV are those with the lowest capacity to provide prevention, testing, treatment, and support services. In such resource-constrained contexts, strategic targeting and prioritization of available resources is crucial to helping communities ‘get to zero.’ This can only be done effectively through better community-based information systems, better routine health information systems, and better use of quality data for decision making. JSI is working to strengthen these systems and capacities in collaboration with the South African government and other key stakeholders.
In less than a year’s time, South Africa will host thousands of scientists, clinicians, researchers, programmers, and policy makers working in HIV from around the world at the AIDS 2016 conference. The lead-up to the conference provides an exciting opportunity to examine the multiplicity of local responses that have evolved to address the unique needs of various marginalized and vulnerable populations. How can these initiatives integrate with and influence large international initiatives, such as DREAMS?
This World AIDS Day, the South African National AIDS Council calls us to Rise, Act, Protect. From a strategic information standpoint, I interpret this call to action thusly:
Rise: Increase our understanding and raise awareness of community need throughout the country. Implementing robust health information systems at scale is a first big step toward achieving this goal. South Africa has already made great strides in this regard by implementing its District Health Management Information Systems Policy and eHealth Strategy with JSI’s support through MEASURE Evaluation SIFSA.
Act: Implement programs that are results-driven, both at individual and community levels. Perennially, the community’s role in strengthening data collection processes for results-based management has been sidelined. World AIDS Day presents an opportunity to re-engage them to this end, get them involved in collecting and interrogating data to ascertain the most accurate picture of community health status and needs.
Protect: Become advocates and role models to improve information systems that save and empower the lives of real people. Often we praise strategies, focus on systems, squabble over metrics, over the wording of goals and indicators, and lose sight of the communities and individuals that these efforts serve and protect. ‘Big Data’ is an incredibly powerful tool, but we will not achieve an AIDS-free generation if we do not care about or consider people’s real experiences interacting with prevention, treatment, and care services.
The JSI South Africa team celebrated World AIDS Day 2015 by engaging in discussion about stigma, LGBTIQA, reflecting on how our work is contributing towards getting to zero and on personal level sharing our own real experiences caring for and supporting loved ones living with HIV. We remain inspired by some of our own leaders within JSI who themselves are living with HIV and guide and direct our global programs from a vantage point of personal knowledge and experience. We also took the opportunity to endorse the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children with hand prints and personal messages on a commemoration cloth. A small token but our way of rising, acting, preventing.
We are reinvigorated by this World AIDS Day call to action to continue our work collaborating with the national government and other partners, and keep striving to get to zero.