Burkina Faso: “We have an historic opportunity to put an end to the AIDS epidemic in Africa”

Parked on Ouagadougou’s red soil opposite the association’s clinic under the burning sun, the ‘mobile screening’ van is the pride of the African Solidarity Association (Association African Solidarité, or AAS). One of the aims of the AAS, founded in Burkina Faso in 1991, is to fight against HIV. The van simplifies the task of identifying AIDS and raising awareness of the disease amongst the population. “No longer do we need to wait for patients to come to the screening centres; now the screening comes to them,” explains Issouf Nikiema, who works in the clinic. In west Africa today, de-medicalising screening (to take it out into the field and make it available to everyone) is a priority.

An AIDS-free Africa: a decade ago this seemed like an impossible goal. But today more than ever, ending the epidemic is a hope that could well be realised by 2030, in line with the target set by the United Nations following years of medical advances in the treatment of HIV.

It means that by 2020, 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

Today three-quarters of all people living with HIV now know their HIV status; of those who know their status, 79 per cent were accessing treatment in 2017; and of the people accessing treatment, 81 per cent had suppressed viral loads, according to the latest figures from UNAIDS. It appears that six countries (Botswana, Cambodia, Denmark, Swaziland, Namibia and the Netherlands) have already met their 90-90-90 targets. “The biggest gap is the first 90: in west Africa and central Africa, for example, only 48 per cent of HIV-positive people knew their status,” says the latest report from UNAIDS.

Outside the Bobo-Dioulasso centre, sheltered from curious eyes, the REVS PLUS association has set up a clinic that sees sex professionals and members of the LGBT community every day for screening. In a rectangular meeting room where several fans hum, tables have been set out in a U-shape for members of the association, most of whom are young gay men rejected by their families. The theme of today’s discussion? Sexually transmitted diseases. The peer-educator leading the discussion, a sort of ‘big brother’, has a set of pictures in his hand to show his audience the symptoms of the papilloma virus, syphilis and genital thrush.

The role these facilitators play is essential, because the last few years have shown that they have real mobilising power in their communities. “We find it easier to trust someone who shares the same lifestyle as us,” explains Charles Somé, a facilitator with REVS PLUS. There are about 80 facilitators in Burkina Faso now, but the idea is to get funds to train and pay more of them. Read more via Equal Times