The first city consultations on tackling the scourge of HIV/AIDS have been launched by UN-HABITAT’s Urban Management Programme in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Seeking to bridge the communication gap that exists between municipal, civil society and community groups that exists in so many countries around the world, the idea is to develop a new shared vision and joint action strategy against the disease.
The first two City Consultations held recently in Blantyre, Malawi, and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, were viewed as so successful that further such meetings are planned for Mumbai, India; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Burj el Barajneh, Lebanon; Louga, Senegal; Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; and Santo Andre, Brazil.
The strategy is aimed at institutional capacity building, good governance, information, awareness raising, reducing stigma and re-orienting municipal services to respond more effectively to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS.
In Blantyre, Malawi’s economic capital, life expectancy is just 37 years – an alarming figure representative of lower life expectancy trends in southern Africa where the regional average has dropped from 62 years to 47 years corresponding to the rise in HIV prevalence. The National Aids Commission of Malawi estimated the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Blantyre in 2000 to be 98,435, almost 20 per cent of the city’s population. This total includes 13,861 children living with HIV.
The Blantyre City Assembly is actively taking forward a response to HIV/AIDS through a city-wide consultative initiative to develop a comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy. This is a national innovation to complement the National AIDS Commission of Malawi and other HIV/AIDS bodies. The Blantyre City Assembly initiative started with a UNDP facilitated training on transformational leadership.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the Municipality of Port of Spain, with the assistance of the UN-HABITAT/UNDP Urban Management Programme, has formed a partnership with national government, civil society partners and the private sector. The partnership aims to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS and its impact across the city and to engage communities and citizens in envisioning a new HIV/AIDS free future and developing an innovative and sustained local response.
While the current situation in Trinidad is not as serious as in Blantyre, the epidemic is currently at a critical phase were it is spreading from the high-risk population to the general population. Figures are not available for Port of Spain, but in Trinidad and Tobago HIV/AIDS is presently among the leading causes of death among young people with increasing numbers of young women at risk. According to the University of the West Indies, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS may be as high as 39,000.