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 pleasure. But on my last visit earlier this month, although I was so happy to be with Mozambicans again, I also shared their pain and frustration over the humanitarian crisis due to the conflict in Cabo Delgado. As the UN Secretary General and as the head of UN work to fight AIDS, I came to Mozambique to express my solidarity with Mozambicans and to learn how we can best increase our support for them. At this painful time for Mozambique, we, the United Nations, are together with its people.
As Mozambicans from all sectors of government, civil society organizations and communities have told us all, the impact of the humanitarian crisis is overlapping with the social and economic impact of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing HIV epidemic and the acute debt crisis that has landed suffered. As they also noted, while the effects of these crises are felt throughout society, these crises are not experienced equally by people, but exacerbate pre-existing inequalities.
2.2 million Mozambicans live with HIV, the second highest number of people with HIV in the world after South Africa. In Mozambique, four teenage girls or young women develop HIV every hour. The Cabo Delgado pandemic and conflict set back the life-saving and life-changing advances made in Mozambique in overcoming HIV and AIDS.
Critical services such as sexual and reproductive health care and HIV treatment have been interrupted, many people living with HIV and vulnerable populations have continued to stigmatize, and the impact on school attendance has increased the risk of new HIV infections for adolescent girls. I was told that the number of cases of gender-based violence has increased by 18 percent compared to 2019.
And at this point, public finances are constrained by the heightened debt burden, and while the debt-suspension initiative has had some welcome debt relief, it has not been enough to give Mozambique the fiscal space it needs, especially alongside the dramatic drop in revenue collection in 2020 and 2021.
But there is hope.
First, we see community-based responses help fight COVID-19 and provide humanitarian aid. Decades of experience with an effective community HIV response has helped educate them and indeed communities affected by HIV have played a leading role. UNAIDS assists community-based organizations in providing HIV prevention services and tracking down ART patients who have dropped out of treatment and linking them to treatment, including providing multi-month supplies. Building on the 20 percent decreases in AIDS deaths in Mozambique since 2010, harm reduction and destigmatization pilots are showing how pandemics can most effectively be tackled.
Second, we saw a global advocacy campaign for the popular vaccine for COVID-19, in which Mozambique is playing a key role in accelerating access to medicines by asking companies to forego patents and share knowledge and expertise. Increasing production is the only way to ensure vaccines and treatments for everyone. The Africa CDC has set out how African production can be increased when obstacles are removed. The group of “elders” of former global leaders, represented by Graça Machel, has helped to raise the conscience of the world. The majority of the public in the West and many lawmakers in the West are also calling on their own governments to share the vaccine formulas to help the world get out of this crisis. They know that we can only overcome this together.
Third, we are seeing a broad movement for the education and empowerment of girls coming together across Africa. Education Plus is a high-level policy initiative, underpinned by a strong rights-based campaign, advocating measures and upscaled investments that ensure and strengthen school graduation through high quality secondary education for all girls and boys in a non-violent environment , Access to full sex education, fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and access to services and economic empowerment of young women through schooling on job transitions.
Together, these interventions will not only drastically reduce HIV infections. They also reduce early pregnancy. Currently, 14 percent of girls in Mozambique have a child under the age of 15 and 57 percent of girls have a child under the age of 18. Everyone in Mozambique is determined to do better for their girls. There is indisputable evidence that girls’ education and empowerment will also fuel economic development and growth. And for girls and young women themselves, equality is invaluable.
Fourth, as the world debates the difficult budgetary situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we see increasing recognition that investing in health, education and empowerment is not an unaffordable expense, but an essential investment for recreation and national development. We are also seeing a growing awareness that the shock of the debt crisis cannot be absorbed only by debtors and that debt relief efforts are still too limited.
As the United Nations Secretary-General has stated, the world needs a process to “end the deadly cycles of debt waves, global debt crises and lost decades”. Our numerous crises are not a moment to reinvest in universal public services, but a moment to intensify. Together we need to find and allocate money to make sure we don’t leave anyone behind, not in rhetoric but in reality.
More aid, debt relief, ensuring a more ambitious issuance of Special Drawing Rights – the IMF currency – and a major redistribution to Africa, new progressive domestic sources of income, and the fight against illicit financial flows and tax avoidance are imperative and urgent.
As the UN, we are currently not only on the side of the Mozambicans, but also for the years to come. We are with them to resolve the humanitarian crisis. We are also with them to tackle inequality and the effects of climate change so that together we can fight COVID-19, AIDS and poverty. By being brave together, we can overcome the crises we face.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial attitudes of Al Jazeera.