As the World commemorates the 2021 World AIDS Day, the Africa Regional Director of the World Health Organisation, WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti has called on governments to prioritize investment in health funding for community-led, human rights-based, gender transformative responses to boost essential health workforce, and secure equitable access to life-saving medicines and health technologies.
The theme for this year World AIDS day is “End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemic”.
The Regional Director, revealed in her address that Africa is unlikely to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, after falling short of the expected 75% reduction in new HIV infections and 81% reduction in AIDS-related deaths in 2020.
She also observed that 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 proportionately decreasing.
“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.
“In Sub-Saharan Africa, young women are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men. For adolescents aged 15 to19 years, three in every five new infections are among girls who don’t have access to comprehensive sexuality education, who face sexual and gender-based violence, and live with harmful gender norms. They also have less access to school than their male peers. The HIV prevalence rate is currently at 1.4% among adults in Nigeria.
“With 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.”
Speaking further, he revealed that as at last year, two out of every three new HIV infections occurred in the African Region, corresponding to almost 2500 new HIV infections every day and sadly, AIDS claimed the lives of 1300 persons every day, in spite of free access to effective treatment.
She however noted that as we commemorate World AIDS day, Africa has made significant progress against HIV in the past decade despite the challenges, as could be seen in the reduction of new infections by 43% and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths; while, 86% of people living with HIV know their status, and 76% are receiving antiretroviral therapy, in the African region.
“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. It has been 40 years since the first HIV cases were reported. Yet, in Africa and globally, it remains a major public health concern.”
Botswana was particularly commended for being on the home stretch to eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission in what was described as a truly remarkable public health success, as only 16 countries have been certified for eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission, none of which had as large an epidemic.
“As efforts to tackle COVID-19 continue gathering force, and the world prepares itself against future pandemics, we risk repeating many of the same mistakes that have kept us from ending AIDS. Addressing inequality is critical to ending both AIDS and COVID-19 and preventing future pandemics – potentially saving millions of lives, and safeguarding our society.
As we commemorate World AIDS day, “We must ensure that everyone, everywhere, has equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care, including COVID-19 vaccinations and services.”