The World Health Organisation, WHO, has said that HIV remained a major global public health concern in the last 40 years.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said this in a message to commemorate the 2021 World AIDS Day.
The theme of the commemoration is: “End Inequalities, End AIDS, End Pandemic”
Ms Moeti said the disease had particular resonance nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said in 2020 two out of every three new HIV infections occurred in African, corresponding to almost 2,500 new HIV infections every day.
Ms Moeti said that 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 per cent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths.
“In the region, 86 per cent of people living with HIV know their status, and 76 per cent are receiving antiretroviral therapy.
“We cannot adequately express our support for those living with HIV, especially within a context where we know that treatment and care have been negatively impacted across Africa by the demands of COVID-19.
“As we remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS this year, we also acknowledge the terrible death toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken and continues to take”, the WHO chief said.
According to the organization, “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.
Ms Moeti lauded Botswana, which she said was on the home stretch to eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission in what was truly remarkable public health success.
According to her, only 16 countries have been certified for eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission, none of which had as large an epidemic.
She said it has taken more than two decades of hard work by leaders, health workers and communities, illustrating what are possible when the health and welfare of mothers and children are prioritised.
Ms Moeti said the African continent might not end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
She said the continent fell short of the expected 75 per cent reduction in new HIV infections and 81 per cent 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 in 2020, key populations and their sexual partners accounted for 72 per cent 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 do not have access to comprehensive sexuality education”, she said
Others, she said, “are those who face sexual and gender-based violence and live with harmful gender norms. They also have less ac cess to a school than their male peers.
“With COVID-19, people living with HIV appear to be at elevated risk for virus-related illness and death.
“Nearly 70 per cent live in the WHO African Region, where only 4.5 per cent of people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“As efforts to tackle COVID-19 continue gathers force, and the world prepares itself against future pandemics, we risk repeating many of the same mistakes that have kept us from ending AIDS”.
Ms Moeti said that addressing inequality was critical to ending both AIDS and COVID-19 and preventing future pandemics.
The regional director assured of efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere, had equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care, including COVID-19 vaccinations and services.
She urged governments to prioritise investment in health for community-led, human rights-based, gender transformative responses.
“We must boost our essential health workforce, and secure equitable access to life-saving medicines and health technologies.’’
Ms Moeti said global solidarity and shared responsibility were critical components of the kind of rights-based approach needed to end HIV/AIDS and COVID-19.