Focusing resources on populations at high risk of HIV infection is at the core of a new national AIDS strategy in Morocco. Launched in Rabat on 3 April by the Minister of Health, El Hossaine Louardi, Morocco’s five-year strategy is closely aligned with the targets of the 2011 Political Declaration on AIDS.
Compared with a majority of African nations, Morocco has a low national HIV prevalence, estimated at approximately 0.15% of the general population. However, recent data show a concentrated and growing HIV epidemic in the country among key populations. According to government figures, an estimated 5.1% of men who have sex with men are living with HIV nation-wide. In the south-western city of Agadir, HIV prevalence among sex workers is about 5%. In Nador, a coastal city in the north-east, nearly one in five people who inject drugs is HIV-positive.
Addressing an audience of more than 300 national partners in the AIDS response—including government officials, civil society representatives and people living with HIV—Mr Louardi said that the national plan aims to halve new HIV infections and reduce AIDS-related deaths by 60% by the year 2016. He added the strategy is based on the principles of a right to health, accountability and inclusion of all partners in the HIV response.
Speaking at the launch ceremony, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé called Morocco’s HIV response “exemplary,” with people placed squarely at the centre of national development efforts. He praised Morocco as a regional pioneer in protecting the health and human rights of vulnerable populations.
Morocco was the first Arab country to introduce harm reduction programmes for people who inject drugs, including methadone maintenance therapy and needle-syringe programmes. Evidence has shown that such programmes are essential to prevent the spread of HIV among key populations.
A new funding paradigm is needed in Morocco and across the African continent—one that is written and owned by African countries - UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé
Mr Sidibé recognised in his remarks a new medical assistance scheme for the country’s low-income population called RAMED (Régime d’Assistance Médicale des Economiquement Démuni). Under RAMED, 8.5 million Moroccans living below the poverty line, or just under 30% of the population, will benefit from partial or total exemption from treatment costs at public hospitals.
“RAMED is an important reform for social justice and the redistribution of opportunity,” said Mr Sidibé. “Providing vulnerable populations with social protection is a key strategy in the HIV response,” he added.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé with Princess Lalla Salma
Credit: Le Matin.ma
Recognising Princess Lalla Salma’s contribution
Earlier in the day, Mr Sidibé met with Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, wife of King Mohammed VI and President of the Association Lalla Salma de Lutte contre le Cancer, a national non-profit organisation. He thanked the Princess for her participation in last year’s UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS and for her on-going advocacy and support for programmes aimed at improving the health of women and children. In recent years, the Princess has been a leading voice in promoting the importance of integrated services for reproductive health and cervical cancer.
A call for reduced dependency on external HIV aid
In a separate meeting with Morocco’s Minister of Health, Mr Sidibé thanked the Minister for his efforts to push forward the Arab AIDS Initiative at a recent conference in Jordan. The new initiative is expected to accelerate national and regional efforts to achieve the targets of the 2011 Political Declaration on AIDS.
Noting that Morocco relies on external aid to fund 50% of its national AIDS response, Mr Sidibé urged the country’s leadership to assume a greater share of HIV investments. “A new funding paradigm is needed in Morocco and across the African continent—one that is written and owned by African countries,” he said.
Underscoring that a vast majority of HIV drugs prescribed in Africa are imported, Mr Sidibé called for the local production of antiretroviral medicines. He spoke of the need for a single African drug regulatory agency to ensure the faster roll-out of quality-assured medications across continent.