Covid-19 undercuts HIV fight

The report called for the empowerment of girls and young women to not only reduce their risk of HIV infection, but to improve their lifelong health and social benefits.

03 December 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK

The latest World Aids Day report has cautioned that the curves of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are not bending fast enough, adding that the colossal new challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic are threatening the gains made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

There are also concerns that the pandemic has undone gains made on the front of gender equality and has set it back with at least a generation. It will now take the world nearly 136 years to close the global gender gap.

“Job and income losses during the pandemic have been higher among women, and their unpaid care burdens have increased. Dozens of studies have documented increases in violence against women and girls during the pandemic. “That increased violence - along with physical and emotional harm - is also associated with increased risk of HIV infection and worse health outcomes for women living with HIV,” the report found.

It is also projected that 11 million girls may never return to school following the pandemic.

While adolescent girls and women still far outnumber men and boys among those acquiring HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa, men in the region are less likely to go for testing and treatment.

Empowerment

The report repeated calls for the empowerment of adolescent girls and young women to not only reduce their risk of HIV infection, but to improve their lifelong health and social benefits.

It also found that the pandemic undercut the agreed actions made six months ago, to address these inequalities, to close gaps in HIV service access by 2025 and to get on track to the global goal of ending AIDS by 2030.

The biggest disruptions to HIV services were in the first half of 2020, when many countries were in their first lockdowns and HIV programmes were scrambling to adapt, the report read.

World Aids Day is commemorated on 1 December every year, and this year’s commemoration highlighted the increasing challenges countries face as they fight parallel pandemics.

Titled ‘Unequal, Unprepared, Under Threat’, the report highlighted that considerable gaps remain and that entrenched inequalities stand in the way of further progress against AIDS, leaving the world vulnerable to future pandemics.

“There is no time to spare. Health systems and communities are now being pushed to the breaking point by the pandemic that the world was woefully unprepared for, despite clear warnings by infectious disease experts and even Hollywood blockbuster films.

“Worse yet, two years of the Covid-19 crisis has so far failed to inspire a unified global response to the new pandemic: Wealthy nations hoard vaccines and struggle to convince sufficient proportions of their populations to get vaccinated, while low- and middle-income countries are left exposed to the full force of the next wave of infections.”

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