George Kimani, a mechanic in Nairobi, remembers the years past, when testing HIV-positive in East Africa was equivalent to being handed a death sentence.
“Before 2001, antiretroviral drugs cost a fortune,” he said, “so having HIV meant almost certain death.”
The 55-year-old, who tested positive in 1998, said that were it not for non-governmental organisations, friends and relatives, he would have been long dead.
“I had to sell some of my property to raise money to pay my medical bills since I was always in and out of hospital. There were times I would go for weeks without working due to opportunistic diseases,” he said.
In 2001, brand name ARVs cost $10,000 per person per year, which was beyond the reach of many people like Mr Kimani, whose income was below $200 per month.
It was a time when the pharmaceutical companies had a tight grip on prices.
Today, if you adjust for inflation, a one-year supply of the same drugs would cost about $14,000, which would still be out of the reach of millions of people living with HIV.
Jimmy Gideyi, 60, has also lived with the disease for 11 years. Mr Gideyi contracted the disease in 2004, when discrimination and stigmatisation of people living with HIV was still very high in East Africa.
“At that time, even employers did not want to employ HIV-positive individuals, fearing they would be a burden and would transmit the disease to others,” Mr Gideyi said.
Luckily for him, MSF Belgium put him on a treatment regime, from which he still benefits.
As result of stigmatisation, many kept their HIV status secret, preferring to suffer in silence.
Mr Gideyi, a former soldier, is one of the people credited with breaking the silence and making their HIV status public. The move helped demystify the disease and change the negative attitude towards Aids patients.
“Seeing the suffering that Aids patients were undergoing, my friends and I decided to make public our HIV status as one way of fighting stigmatisation and discrimination. I am proud of what we achieved in the fight against Aids,” he said.
Recently, the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/Aids, UNAids, documented the global achievements made in combating the disease.
The achievements range from reduction of new infections, increase in funding for HIV/Aids programmes, fighting stigmatisation and making ARVs accessible, among other advances.
- UNAids believes the target can be met by 2030. Apart from the cost of ARVs declining by more than 90 per cent, to around $200 per patient per year, the world has managed to halt and even reverse the Aids epidemic.
- In the past 15 years, for instance, new infection rates have dropped by 35 per cent. The number of new HIV infections dropped from 3.1 million to 2 million.
- Aids-related deaths declined from 2 million to 1.2 million between 2004 and 2014. The deaths are expected to decline further to 0.2 million by 2030.