By Momodou Jarju
Report by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has revealed that the global HIV target set for 2020 will not be reached owing to highly unequal progress notably in expanding access to antiretroviral therapy.
The report, Seizing the Moment, which was released recently stated that the deeply successes AIDS epidemic have not been shared equally within and between countries.
It also stated that the Covid-19 pandemic could risks blowing HIV progress way off course.
Winnie Byanyima, the UNAIDS Executive Director said in the report that their progress towards ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 was already off track before the COVID-19 outbreak, adding that Covid-19 has the potential to blow them further off course.
“Modeling conducted on behalf of UNAIDS and the World Health Organization has shown that a six-month disruption to medical supplies could result in an additional 500 000 AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone by the end of 2021,” she said.
The executive director said the HIV prevention crisis must be tackled by granting everyone everywhere the right to health, tearing down the barriers that stop people receiving essential services.
Byanyima said they cannot allow the hard-fought gains made in the HIV response to be reversed. She further stated that of the 38 million people living with HIV, 25.4 million people are now on treatment.
“That means 12.6 million people are still waiting. New HIV infections have been reduced by 23% since 2010, thanks in large part to a substantial decrease of 38% in eastern and southern Africa. But HIV infections have increased by 72% in Eastern Europe and central Asia, by 22% in the Middle East and North Africa and by 21% in Latin America,” the executive director stated.
Globally, there were still 690 000 AIDS-related deaths in 2019 and 1.7 million new infections.
Byanyima said 2020 targets of reducing AIDS-related deaths to fewer than 500 000 and new HIV infections to fewer than 500000 will be missed.
She said gender-based violence and inequalities continue to drive the HIV epidemic and in sub-Saharan Africa, young women and adolescent girls accounted for one in four new infections in 2019, despite making up about 10% of the total population.
The report estimated that globally 243 million women and girls (aged 15–49 years) have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the past 12 months.
“Meanwhile, we know that women who experience such violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV than women who have not experienced violence. Among marginalized groups, a high prevalence of violence is also linked with higher rates of HIV infection,” she said.
She said what they desperately need is a different politics to guarantee
that everyone everywhere has the right to health which must include concerted efforts to dismantle the injustices and inequalities that put young women and girls, gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who use drugs, prisoners and migrants at greater risk of becoming infected with HIV.
“In tackling COVID-19, we must learn the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with HIV. Millions died of AIDS-related illnesses while there were medicines available that could have saved their lives. We must ensure that COVID-19 treatments and an eventual vaccine against the coronavirus are made
available to everyone everywhere, free at the point of use. A People’s Vaccine,” she stated.
Meanwhile, UNAIDS leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.