Dear Colleagues and Friends,
I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year, and reflect on several notable events from 2015 - a year of remarkable progress in global health, and remarkable expansion for the World Bank Group's health, nutrition and population portfolio, which grew to more than $10 billion.
The World Bank Group’s new Gender Equality Strategy for 2016-2023, launched last week, addresses gender inclusion not just as a goal in and of itself, but one critical to development effectiveness.
The days that I spent on the Big Cities project taught me how to handle different people from all walks of life, who were diagnosed HIV positive. Working there, I learned that HIV/AIDS does not choose its victims, whether rich or poor.
One of them happened to be my close friend. I really didn’t know how to tell him about his HIV status. It was hard… really hard to be his HIV counselor. It was difficult putting myself in his shoes, for example, when this diagnosis must’ve felt like the end of the world for him. But I knew that I had to be strong for my friend.
I wondered how I could help him if I wasn’t strong myself, so I promised him that I would do my best to support him, which was similar to what I do for other people living with HIV.
This week is unique. December 1 was World AIDS Day –a moment to unite with the community touched by HIV and push forward in the fight. December 4 is Ocean Day at COP21 – an opportunity to advance the global ocean and climate agenda toward meaningful impact and action. Two important days with two very different purposes. And yet, each significant in commemorating critical causes that are often just outside the realm of everyday consideration. But it is not only this marginality that links them– and understanding this connection can only strengthen our imperative to act.
In Asia, Thailand remains one of the countries hardest hit by the HIV epidemic. Currently, 440,000 people are living with HIV and approximately 1,250 people die each year from HIV-related causes.
Although the country is often praised for its highly successful efforts to curb the spread of HIV among sex workers and their clients, particularly through the world-renowned 100% Condom Use Program, its response to HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) has been limited.
Today is World Aids Day - an annual event to raise awareness about the global fight against HIV. Earlier this year, a report from UNAIDS declared that the Millennium Development Goal 6 target of “halting and reversing the spread of HIV” had been met, but that continued effort and financing would be needed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of Sustainable Development Goal 3.
When it comes to international data about HIV and AIDS, the cross-organisational UNAIDS program publishes age and gender-disaggregated data on indicators such as prevalence, new infections and deaths. In turn, we incorporate some of these data into the World Development Indicators.
Here are some highlights from the most recently available data:
In 2014, there were an estimated 36.9 million adults and children living with HIV in the world. The majority of these people are in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. As you can see from the decreasing slope of the “global” line - while people continue to become infected, the rate of new infections is going down.
World AIDS Day 2015 marks an unheralded but profound increase in our response to HIV and other major infectious diseases. In the last year, HIV diagnostics and medicines have made a real step change, as better and cheaper viral load tests and lower-dose, less toxic, more effective and cheaper drugs come to market. Drug costs are at their lowest ever, with generic first-line regimens costing $95-158 per patient per year – a 60-70% reduction from 2007-2014.
Strategies to curb violence against women too often exclude the experiences of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is marking this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women by highlighting the disproportionate violence and discrimination that many lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face, and calls on the World Bank to develop policies that consider the unique needs of these women.
The laws are changing but the violence remains
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have made great strides in the fight for full equality. As of today, 34 countries permit marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, and many other countries have passed vital non-discrimination protections. For example, in the United States, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 expanded non-discrimination protections for LGBT people to prohibit shelters and other domestic violence services from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sadly, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face disproportionate levels of violence at the hands of both strangers and intimate partners. A recent U.N. human rights report noted that LGBT people are at a disturbingly elevated risk of homicidal violence, highlighting the increased risk that lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face because of gender-based discrimination. Another study by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition estimates that transgender women in the United States face 4.3 times the risk of becoming homicide victims than the general population of women. Factors such as poverty or belonging to a racial minority exacerbated the incidence and rates of violence experienced. Transgender people are also more likely to experience violence from law enforcement, in homeless shelters, and in healthcare settings. The recent Transgender Day of Remembrance served as a stark reminder that transgender people around the world face disproportionate levels of violence: in the United States alone, at least 21 transgender people have been killed in 2015.
It is often said that we live in a new data age. Institutions such as the Bank, UN agencies, NASA, ESA, universities and others have deluged us with an overwhelming amount of new data obtained painstakingly from countries and surveys or observed by the increasing number of eyes in the sky. We have modern tools such as mobile phones that are more powerful than old mainframes I used to use in my university days. You can be in rural Malawi and still have access to decent 3G data networks.