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UNAIDS Report: Inequality and Coronavirus Risk a Decade of HIV Progress

JUL 06, 2020 | GRANT M. GALLAGHER
Since 2015, there were 3.5 million more new HIV transmissions than would have occurred if medical interventions had been on track to meet 2020 goals.

Now, with the advent of severe disruptions to HIV services due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) report released for the virtual AIDS 2020 conference warns that the international AIDS response could be set back by 10 years or more.

“Those of us who survived HIV and fought for life and access to treatment and care cannot afford losing the gains that took so much effort to win. In some Latin American countries we are seeing how HIV resources, medicines, medical staff and equipment are being moved to the fight against COVID-19,” said Gracia Violeta Ross, President of the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV. “Some good lessons and practices of the HIV response, such as meaningful participation and accountability, are being ignored. We will not allow HIV to be left behind.”

According to the authors of the report, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has already impinged on AIDS response efforts and could lead to further disruption.

UNAIDS estimates that it would take only a 20% disruption of treatment to cause an additional 110,000 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa from 2020-2021, winding the region back to 2008 AIDS mortality levels.

Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, articulated a global view on the need to take both SARS-CoV-2 and HIV responses seriously.

“We cannot have poor countries at the back of the queue. It should not depend on the money in your pocket or the colour of your skin to be protected against these deadly viruses,” said Byanyima. “We cannot take money from one disease to treat another. Both HIV and COVID-19 must be fully funded if we are to avoid massive loss of life.”

The report also pointed to long-standing barriers pertaining to social class and unproductive efforts at controlling the spread of HIV through legal punishment.

“At least 82 countries criminalize some form of HIV transmission, exposure or non-disclosure, sex work is criminalized in at least 103 countries and at least 108 countries criminalize the consumption or possession of drugs for personal use,” UNAIDS authors note.

Roughly 62% of new HIV transmissions occur among particular social groups such as gay men, other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use criminalized drugs, and people in prison.

UNAIDS and partners also emphasized the importance of improving access to care amid the coronavirus pandemic. The organization is spearheading a global petition asking that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests be made free-access for patients and legal to mass produce without limitation by patent regulations.
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