WHO: 1,300 People Die Daily from AIDS in Africa

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  • Says continent may miss 2030 target for ending AIDS

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that despite free access to effective treatment, Africa has recorded 460,000 deaths from AIDS with 1,300 lives lost everyday.

It said the African continent is unlikely to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

However, WHO said that the challenges notwithstanding, Africa has made significant progress against HIV in the past decade, reducing new infections by 43% and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths.

In its message to mark the 2021 World AIDS Day, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the world cannot afford to lose focus on the urgent need to end the inequities that drive AIDS and other epidemics.

Moeti, who noted that it has been 40 years since the first HIV cases were reported, expressed regret that in Africa and globally, AIDS remained a major public health concern.

“Last year, two out of every three new HIV infections occurred in the African region, corresponding to almost 2,500 new HIV infections every day.

“Sadly, AIDS claimed the lives of 460,000 people, or a shocking 1,300 every day, in spite of free access to effective treatment.

“The challenges notwithstanding, Africa has made significant progress against HIV in the past decade, reducing new infections by 43% and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” she said.

Moeti further said that in the African region, 86% of people living with HIV know their status, while 76% are receiving antiretroviral therapy.

On the efforts to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission, she said that only 16 countries have been certified for eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission, none of which had as large an epidemic.

According to her, Botswana seems to be the only country in Africa that is on the home stretch to eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Moeti said: “Going forward, we cannot afford to lose focus on the urgent need to end the inequities that drive AIDS and other epidemics around the world. The continent as a whole is, however, unlikely to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, after we fell short of the expected 75% reduction in new HIV infections and 81% reduction in AIDS-related deaths by 2020. Despite the very high percentages of people living with HIV who know their status, and treatment rates, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are not decreasing concomitantly.

“It remains critical for us to reach those who are fuelling the epidemic, addressing the persistent inequities in the provision of quality care and interventions. For instance, in West and Central Africa last year, key populations and their sexual partners accounted for 72% of new adult HIV infections. Yet punitive laws, policies, hostile social and cultural environments, and stigma and discrimination, including in the health sector, prevent them from accessing services.”

Speaking further on the transmission rate, the WHO Regional Director said that within the sub-Saharan Africa, young women are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men.

She explained that for adolescents aged 15 to19 years, three in every five new infections were among girls who don’t have access to comprehensive sexuality education, who face sexual and gender-based violence and live with harmful gender norms.

She said that infections are more among the girl because they have less access to school than their male peers, adding that COVID-19 people living with HIV appear to be at elevated risk for virus-related illness and death.

“Nearly 70% live in the WHO African region, where only 4.5% of people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” she said.

Moeti advised governments to prioritize investment in health funding for community-led, human rights-based and gender transformative responses.

She also said that global solidarity and shared responsibility are critical components of the kind of rights-based approach the people need if they are to end HIV/AIDS and COVID-19.

“We must boost our essential health workforce and secure equitable access to life-saving medicines and health technologies.

“We must ensure that everyone, everywhere has equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care, including COVID-19 vaccinations and services,” she said.