The United Nations has warned that decades of progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS are under threat as the world shifts attention to the Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic.
The warning came on Monday through the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS, UNAIDS, dedicated to eradicating the disease by 2030, and the World Health Organisation, WHO.
They noted that disruptions to treatment could result in hundreds of thousands of HIV-related deaths.
Winnie Byanyima, the head of UNAIDS, said there was a risk that the “hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19”.
Byanyima pointed out that the right to health meant that no one disease should be fought at the expense of another.
“The COVID-19 pandemic must not be an excuse to divert investment from HIV,” the UNAIDS chief said.
A study by a group of experts convened by UNAIDS and WHO projects-six-months indicates disruption in antiretroviral therapy could lead to no fewer than 500,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2020–2021.
It warned that a break in HIV/AIDS response could also trigger a rise in tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “there is a heightened risk of turning the clock on AIDS-related deaths back to 2008” if action was not taken immediately.
“In 2018, no fewer than 470,000 people died of AIDS-related complications in Sub-Saharan Africa,” according to the organisation.
It said an estimated 25.7 million people were living with the virus, with 16.4 million on antiretroviral therapy.
“The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history.
“Between closed HIV services, antiretroviral supply chain disruptions and overwhelmed services trying to support the competing COVID-19 response, those people now risk treatment interruptions.
“We must read this as a wake-up call to countries to identify ways to sustain all vital health services,” the WHO chief emphasised.
Mr Ghebreyesus noted that some countries were already taking “important steps” to maintain their health services.
He said they were doing that by allowing people to collect bulk packs of therapies and other essential commodities, including self-testing kits.
“We must also ensure that global supplies of tests and treatments continue to flow to the countries that need them,” he added.