Mozambique has played such an inspiring role in the history of our continent that arriving in this vibrant and beautiful country has always been a great joy. But on my last visit earlier this month, while I was so happy to be reunited with the Mozambicans, I also shared their pain and frustration over the humanitarian crisis of the conflict in Cabo Delgado. As the UN Under-Secretary-General and the UN’s Work Leader to Fight AIDS, I have come to Mozambique to express my solidarity with Mozambicans and to learn how we can best strengthen our support. At this painful time for Mozambique, we United Nations are with its people.
As all Mozambicans across the government, civil society organizations and communities have told us, the impact of the humanitarian crisis intersects with the social and economic impact of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the epidemic of Ongoing HIV and the acute debt crisis. the country has suffered. Furthermore, as they noted, while the effects of these crises are felt in society, these crises are not experienced by people in the same way, but are exacerbating pre-existing inequalities.
2.2 million Mozambicans live with HIV, the second highest number of people living with HIV in the world after South Africa. Every hour in Mozambique, four teenage girls or young women contract HIV. The pandemic and the conflict in Cabo Delgado held back the life-saving and revolutionary progress that had been made in Mozambique towards overcoming HIV and AIDS.
Critical services, including sexual and reproductive health care and HIV treatment, have been disrupted, many people living with HIV and vulnerable populations have faced further stigma, and the impact on school attendance has increased risk of new HIV infections for adolescent girls. I was told that there has been an 18% increase in cases of gender-based violence compared to 2019.
And right now, public finances are constrained by the exacerbated debt burden, and while the debt suspension initiative has had some welcome debt relief, it has not been enough to provide Mozambique with the fiscal space it needs. needs, especially alongside the drastic drop in revenue collection in 2020 and 2021.
But there is hope.
First, we are seeing how community-led responses are helping in addressing COVID-19 and the humanitarian response. The decades of proven experience resulting from an effective community-led HIV response have helped to inform them, and indeed HIV-affected communities have played a leading role. UNAIDS is supporting community-based organizations to provide HIV prevention services and to track ART patients who have stopped treatment and reconnect them to treatment, including providing supplies for multiple months. Building on lessons learned from the 20% decrease in AIDS-related deaths in Mozambique since 2010, pilot harm reduction projects and destigmatization efforts are demonstrating how pandemics are being tackled more effectively.
Second, we have seen the rise of a global advocacy campaign, of which Mozambique is a key champion, for the People’s Vaccine for COVID-19, to accelerate access to medicines by requiring companies to forgo patents and share knowledge. and know-how. Increasing production is the only way to guarantee vaccines and treatments for all. Africa CDC has established how to increase African production as barriers are removed. The “Elders” group of former world leaders, represented by Graça Machel, helped to rally the conscience of the world. Most public opinion in the West, and many lawmakers in the West, are also urging their governments to share vaccine formulas to help the world out of this crisis. They know we can only overcome this problem together.
Thirdly, we are seeing a broad movement for the education and empowerment of girls all over Africa. “Education Plus” is a high-level political initiative, backed by a powerful rights-based campaign, for higher-level policies and investments that will ensure school completion through free quality secondary education for all girls and boys. boys, and will reinforce it with freedom from environmental violence, access to comprehensive sex education, fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights and access to services, and the economic empowerment of young women through the transition from school to work.
Together, these interventions will not only dramatically reduce HIV infections. They will also reduce early pregnancy. Currently 14% of girls in Mozambique have a child before the age of 15 and 57% of girls have a child before the age of 18. Everyone in Mozambique is determined to do better for their girls. There is incontrovertible evidence that girls’ education and empowerment will also stimulate development and economic growth. And for girls and young women themselves, equality is priceless.
Fourth, as the world discusses the challenges of the difficult fiscal situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we see a growing recognition that investments in health, education and empowerment are not unsustainable expenses, but vital investments for recovery and national development. We also see a growing recognition that the shock of the debt crisis cannot be absorbed by debtors alone and that debt cancellation action is still too limited.
As the UN Secretary-General noted, the world needs a process to “end the deadly cycles of debt waves, global debt crises and lost decades”. Our multiple crises herald not a time to step back in investing in universal public services, but a time to step up. Together, we must find and allocate money to make sure we leave no one behind, not in rhetoric, but in reality.
More aid, debt cancellation, guarantee of a more ambitious issuance of Special Drawing Rights – the currency of the IMF – and a major reallocation to Africa, new sources of progressive domestic revenue and the fight against illicit financial flows and tax avoidance , are all essential and urgent elements.
As the UN, we are not only on the side of Mozambicans right now, but for years to come. We are with them as they work to resolve the humanitarian crisis; we are with them too, as they work to tackle inequality and the impacts of climate change, so that together we can beat COVID-19, defeat AIDS and defeat poverty. By being bold, together, we can overcome the crises we face.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.