By Bergen Cooper, Senior Policy Research Associate, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are coming to a close. As we look back at accomplishments and missed opportunities in the MDGs—and prepare for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—we know that global action works, but not for everyone.
MDG 6, for example, was created to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. The targets include halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS by 2010, and halting and reversing the incidence of malaria by 2015.
Let’s start with the good news. We achieved halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Let’s continue with the good news. New HIV infections declined by 40 percent from 2000-2013. Fifteen million people living with HIV are on antiretroviral therapy, a goal that was met nine months early. This is compared to the only 1 million people who were on antiretroviral therapies in 2000. New HIV infections have fallen by 35 percent in the general population, and 59 percent in children since 2000. More than 6 million deaths from malaria have been averted. Tuberculosis prevention, diagnosis, and treatment saved 37 million lives. These are remarkable and commendable figures. But they don’t paint the whole picture.
We have forgotten women and girls. Michele Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, acknowledges that we should have done more for prevention and that we need female-controlled options for prevention, such as the female condom. HIV/AIDS is still the number one cause of death for women of reproductive age. Women still account for 60 percent of new HIV cases in low- and middle-income countries. And yet only 30 percent of young women in sub-Saharan Africa have comprehensive knowledge about HIV. In 2013 over 80 percent of the new HIV cases in adolescents were girls ages 15-24. We are failing women and girls.
It is this failure around meeting the needs of women and girls that makes new initiatives so timely and needed. The DREAMS Initiative, for example, is a two year $210 million effort by the U.S. government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Nike Foundation with the goal of aggressively reducing the number of new HIV infections in girls age 15-24 in ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa. DREAMS takes a holistic approach to the prevention of HIV in adolescents by investing in evidence-based interventions that target the economic, social, and cultural environments that put young women and girls at risk for new HIV infections.
We are on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and we could do it, but we have learned from the MDGs that we can meet a goal and still fail over half of the world’s population. Just this fall, CHANGE and AVAC released their report “Prevention Now: An Integration Agenda for Women, by Women,” along with a vision statement created by women advocates in sub-Saharan Africa, “Our Vision: Integrated Health Services for All Women and Girls, Everywhere.” The report and statement outline the need for collective activism around a prevention agenda for women and girls and the need to engage women-led organizations — to listen to the voices of advocates.
Simply achieving the SDGs will not be enough to protect and respect the lives of women and girls. As we approach the SDGs, we must acknowledge that a framework that neglects to fully monitor sexual and reproductive health and rights might not be the best framework for protecting and respecting the health and rights of women and girls. Reaching our global goals is a fantastic display of cooperation and dedication. But let us not reach another goal without women and girls.