By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised governments and development partners to adopt similar strategies used in containing the COVID-19 pandemic to address other health problems afflicting their people.
In his message delivered at this year’s World AIDS Day, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said due to COVID-19 pandemic, the world has realised how important it is to come together, with determined leadership from governments and communities to sustain and expand access to essential services, including HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care.
Moeti said: “To sustain and accelerate the gains made, I urge governments and partners to come together, with the same level of urgency and leadership demonstrated in response to COVID-19, to increase domestic funding and strengthen health systems”.
Regarding the efforts to contain HIV/AIDS, Moeti said there must be global solidarity and shared responsibility among all stakeholders to ensure integrated, people-centred, quality care and an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities for HIV services.
According to Mieti, there are 38 million people living with HIV globally and 67 per cent of them are living in the WHO African region, adding that in 2019, more than one million people in the region were newly infected with HIV, accounting for 60 per cent of the global total.
He further said that 440,000 people in the region died from HIV-related causes.
The WHO director said the pandemic is making it even more challenging for countries to provide these services, particularly in areas affected by conflict, disasters, outbreaks and rapid population growth.
According to him, the rights of women and girls, and gender equality, must be at the centre to stop new HIV infections among girls and young women.
“I urge communities, especially people living with HIV, to be proactive in your self-care and in understanding how to prevent the spread of infections,” he said.
Giving more statistics, Moeti said girls and women aged 15–24 years account for 37 per cent of all new HIV infections, and that stigma and discrimination especially against key populations continues to create barriers to service access.
He added that children living with HIV are not being adequately identified for HIV treatment
Despite these challenges, the WHO Scribe said significant progress is happening in African countries.
“2020 is a milestone year towards ending AIDS epidemics and 81 per cent of people living with HIV know their status. Among them, 70 per cent of adults and 53 per cent of children are receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).
“Eighty-five per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV are on ART, which protects their health and prevents HIV transmission to their newborn infants,” he said.