Someone once said that the face of AIDS is an African woman. Whether one agrees with the statement or not, certainly all the evidence points to the fact that the HIV/AIDS pandemic has hit Africa the hardest and women in particular.
Having HIV or AIDS in Africa can be a virtual death sentence. Imagine living in rural Africa with little or limited infrastructure to diagnose and treat diseases like malaria, much more HIV/AIDS.
All this is in spite of the high level political commitments made by presidents and prime ministers, who will be discussing these challenges again in Washington this week at the 19th International AIDS Conference. In June last year world leaders met at the UN to assess what progress has been made in the HIV/AIDS global response.
With the MDG signpost of 2015 less than four years away, a major concern was the inability of most low and middle income countries to provide access to prevention, treatment, care and support for HIV.
It is no wonder that meeting universal access targets continue to be a major challenge. Many are living in rural places with no access to hospitals, clinics or health centres. In order to reach out to those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS one must go out to them.
This is where Riders for Health comes in; with a vision of a world in which no one will die of an easily preventable or curable disease because barriers of distance, terrain or poverty prevent them from being reached.
In places where Riders for Health operates there is more than a glimmer of hope for those with HIV/AIDS. In The Gambia, Riders is managing ambulances and motorcycles for the Ministry of Health. With these vehicles, health workers can now conduct outreach health care and social workers in HIV/AIDS care-teams can us their motorcycles to follow up with people living with HIV for care and support.
In Lesotho, and parts of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Riders is running a sample transport system. This is a motorcycle courier system specifically designed to improve access to laboratory testing to increase the ability to monitor HIV and reduce the time taken to diagnose diseases like tuberculosis.
In eight countries across Africa Riders is addressing health access challenges at the notoriously challenging the ‘last mile’ health care delivery.
At the International AIDS Conference the world is showing its commitment to finally ending HIV/AIDS, but if we are to succeed we must make sure that care get to the people who are hardest to reach, but who need it the most.
*Cherno Jallow is programme director for Riders for Health’s programme in The Gambia