Covid-19 pandemic hampers global AIDS response, UN warns

Geneva, Dec 1 (EFE).- One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to put an end to AIDS by 2030, but the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted prevention efforts, awareness and treatment of the disease, UNAIDS warned on Wednesday.

During the first year of the pandemic, 40 countries reported a decline in HIV testing and a reduction of prevention programs due to widespread lockdowns and issues with accessing health facilities, according to a Unicef report.

“Progress against the AIDS pandemic, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the Covid-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programs and more,” Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, said in a statement to mark World Aids Day.

“We cannot be forced to choose between ending the AIDS pandemic today and preparing for the pandemics of tomorrow. The only successful approach will achieve both,” Byanyima added.

UNAIDS warned that 7.7 million people could die this decade from the virus if the efforts were not resumed or accelerated.

Forty years ago, on June 5, 1981, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report warned of five cases of rare pneumonia in Los Angeles that only affected patients with weakened immune systems, in what turned out to be the first recognized cases of AIDS.

Since then, the disease has claimed 35 million lives (seven times the number of Covid-19 fatalities), although mortality has dipped since death rates peaked some 20 years ago.

1998 was the year that recorded the highest number of HIV infections (2.8 million). By 2020, infection rates stood at 1.5 million.

Morbidity peaked in 2004 with 1.8 million deaths compared to 680,000 in 2020.

Access to antiretroviral treatment has risen from just 560,000 at the beginning of this century to over 28 million by 2021.

Africa continues to be the epicenter of the disease with 25.3 million cases and 460,000 AIDS-related deaths, followed by Asia (5.7 million HIV carriers and 140,000 deaths), according to 2019 figures.

As well as dealing with a serious health condition, HIV patients also suffer from social stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

A poll published by the International Labor Organization (ILO), in conjunction with global analytics and polling organization Gallup International, revealed that nearly four out of 10 respondents said that people living with HIV should not be allowed to work directly with those who do not have HIV.

Furthermore, around 60% also supported mandatory HIV testing before people are allowed to work.

Ignorance about the transmission of the virus continues to prevail with only one in four people correctly answering sections on how HIV was transmitted.

“It is shocking that 40 years into the HIV and AIDS epidemic, myths and misconceptions are still so widespread. A lack of basic facts about how HIV is transmitted is fuelling stigma and discrimination,” Chidi King, Chief of the ILO’s Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Branch, said. EFE


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