By Alex Mirkhan
Brasilia, Jun 7 (EFE).- Economic and social inequalities, and racial and sexual discrimination in particular, are having the effect of prolonging the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) said in an interview with Efe.
“(We have found) after 40 years of fighting HIV/AIDS that inequalities drive pandemics, stop us from ending pandemics, and that pandemics also drive inequalities, as we saw with Covid,” Winnie Byanyima said in Brasilia.
The UNAIDS chief traveled to the Brazilian capital for Tuesday’s announcement of the Global Council on Inequality, AIDS and Pandemics, an initiative that Geneva-based organization is launching as part of its goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
That new body aims to “harness essential evidence” that demonstrates the link between inequalities and HIV/AIDS and make policymakers aware of the need to take corrective action.
Byanyima pointed to persistent gender inequality as one factor that makes it more difficult to combat HIV/AIDS.
“School is the safest place for preventing, for reducing the risk, of HIV. If girls are staying in school, their risk of infection of HIV could drop by up to 50 percent. But many girls and boys are not in secondary school,” she said.
The UNAIDS director also noted that “in many countries, both in Africa and even countries (in) Latin America, where religion and traditions are strong, sexuality education is resisted by parents, by teachers, by religious leaders.”
And the link between discrimination and HIV infection is particularly strong in the case of gays, “who are at a much higher risk of HIV infection than other men,” she said.
In countries where same-sex relationships are not criminalized, such as Thailand, that gap in infection risk is much narrower than in countries where it is criminalized, like Malaysia.
The HIV infection risk for gays is 11 times higher than that of heterosexuals in the former country but 74 times greater in the latter.
Brazil, according to Byanyima, is a global leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, although at the same time it offers further evidence of how social inequalities within countries prolong pandemics and amplify their impact amongst the poorest and most vulnerable.
Over the past 10 years, even as new HIV infections among Brazil’s white population have dropped 12.3 percent they have climbed 13.4 percent among Afro-Brazilians. And that same trend also is seen in AIDS-related deaths.
“We see this across the world. It’s not just Brazil. We see for example in countries which have reached epidemic control, like Canada, like the United States, that you still have high levels of new infections amongst indigenous, poor people, or African-American people,” Byanyima said.
In that sense, those hit hardest by HIV/AIDS are ethnic minorities and groups of poor people, which in part reflects the inequalities within health care systems.
UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations and works closely with global and national partners toward ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. EFE