We need more investment in health: HIV activist tells government

We need more investment in health: HIV activist tells government

Evelyn Letio celebrated her 64th birthday this year like any other person. However, for 30 years of her life, she has been living with HIV/AIDS and has grown to be an inspiration to many people who defy the odds to beat the scourge in a country with dilapidated healthcare.

Speaking during the International Aids Day at the Dr John Garang Mausoleum in Juba on Thursday, Letio, who is also the programme coordinator for the National Empowerment of Positive Women United (NEPWU), recounts how she overcame challenges on a daily basis to scale that ladder of life. It took perseverance, going the extra mile, and a strong desire to succeed for her. But there is still a lack of support from the government, which she believes would be so crucial.

“Government is neither supporting the treatment nor the programs that have been put in place to support people living with HIV,” she laments. “The government should demonstrate to donors that South Sudan is wealthy, that they have a lot of money, and that they can’t support the health systems.”

That South Sudan is one of the countries battling hunger is bad news for Letio, whose nutritional needs are a matter of compulsion, not a choice.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released last month shows that about two-thirds of the South Sudanese population, or 7.76 million people, are likely to face acute food insecurity during the April-July 2023 lean season, while 1.4 million children will be malnourished.

For Letio, this problem would not only affect other citizens, but it would also put the lives of people like her at risk, especially when they cannot afford to have proper meals.  She warns that dependency on donors could drift the country into situations that are more difficult. 

“There are so many things happening in the world today, natural disasters, wars, and the rest of it, so one day America will say, no more support to South Sudan for the AIDS program. All Global Fund-supported partners will withdraw their support.”What is going to happen?” she questioned.

Letio says there is an urgent need to strengthen the health systems and pay the workers well so that they can handle people living with HIV well. 

“Buy medicine, strengthen the health system, and pay workers well. There is a lot of discrimination because of the meagre salaries. Somebody has slept hungry and then looks at a person with HIV with an attitude.”

COVID spoils progress

According to UNAIDS data on the global HIV response, progress against the HIV pandemic has stalled in the last two years of COVID-19 and other global crises, resources have shrunk, and millions of lives are at risk as a result.

Letio also stressed the need for awareness, saying many people in parts of South Sudan are not aware of HIV and that is why stigma still prevails. 

With her focus on the future, Letio says she is happy that she opened up about her status, which has helped her live longer. 

She says, “People should either come out openly or take their medicine, if you don’t open you will die and live your children behind, men will abuse them, and they will infect them.”

‘I have taken medicine for 30 years and it has taken a toll on my body. We need research to be done in South Sudan so that when any medicine is introduced, the government can decide on the safety of the medicine for the people.” “I am 64 years, and I am not going to die” she concludes her conversation.