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COVID-19 may affect ongoing AIDS/ HIV global fight: UN agency

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AIDS/ HIV global fight

COVID-19 may affect ongoing AIDS/ HIV global fight: UN agency

The United Nations warned that the ongoing AIDS/ HIV global fight could be severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, putting progress back by ten years or more.

As of 2019, 38 million people worldwide are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This is a million more than it was in the previous year.

AIDS/ HIV global fight still ongoing

According to the UN AIDS agency, the fight against AIDS was already faltering even before the pandemic.

This is because while 25.4 million HIV-positive people were getting antiretroviral treatment in 2019, that left 12.6 million still not getting medicines to prevent its spread.

What’s more, there were 1.7 million new HIV cases last year and around 690,000 have died. For context, AIDS-related deaths are down by 60 percent since the height of the HIV epidemic in 2004.

“Every day in the next decade, decisive action is needed to get the world back on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS’ executive director.

In their report at the virtual International Aids Conferences, the agency said: “The global HIV targets set for 2020 will not be reached. Even the gains made could be lost and progress further stalled if we fail to act.”

COVID-19’s effect on AIDS/ HIV global fight

The COVID-19 pandemic has already “seriously impacted” the AIDS/ HIV fight with lockdowns and travel and trade disruptions affecting HIV treatment and testing services.

In the agency’s report, they said that key populations at high-risk of HIV leave them “even more vulnerable than usual” because of these disruptions.

Because of the pandemic, people at risk cannot have access to preventive medicine or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection.

“We know that women who experience such violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV than women who have not experienced violence,” Byanyima said.

She added that, “Successful pandemic responses must be rooted in human rights, be evidence-based, community-led and fully funded. We must learn the lesson once and for all.”

Global effects in disruption of medicines

According to the UN, a six-month complete disruption in HIV treatment could cause more than 500,000 extra deaths in sub-Saharan Africa by next year.

In a survey done by the World Health Organization (WHO), 73 countries have warned that they are at risk of running out of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it.”

“We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease,” Ghebreyesus added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that, “The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing our world’s fragilities– including persistent economic and social inequalities and woefully inadequate investments in public health.”

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