On World AIDS Day 2020 that was celebrated with the theme “Global solidarity, resilient HIV services”, the World Health Organization called on global leaders and citizens to rally for “global solidarity” to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19 on the HIV response and get back on track to end HIV by 2030.
It was pointed out that the global HIV epidemic is not over and may be accelerating during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a devastating impact on communities and countries. In 2019, there were still 38 million people living with HIV infection. One in five of those people were not aware of their infection and one in three people receiving HIV treatment experienced disruption to the supply of treatments, testing and prevention services, especially children and adolescents.
Last year, 690,000 people died from HIV-related causes and 1.7 million were newly infected, with nearly two in three of those new infections occurring among key populations and their partners.
Despite significant efforts, progress in scaling up HIV services was already stalling before the Covid-19 pandemic, leading experts to fear that the world is missing the “90-90-90” targets for 2020 that would have ensured that 90 percent of people living with HIV were aware of their status, 90 percent of those diagnosed were receiving treatment, and 90 percent of all receiving treatment have achieved viral suppression.
Covid-19 has caused the breakdown in essential HIV services and economic disruption that can threaten lives by making services unobtainable and unaffordable as well as disrupting supply chains. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, these lengthy disruptions could lead to a doubling of AIDS-related deaths.
As a country with one of the highest rate in increase of HIV/AIDS infections, World AIDS Day has significant meaning for the Philippines. Much of our resources may have been diverted to the fight against Covid-19 but the threat of HIV and AIDS will remain and has the potential to spread further among vulnerable communities if not enough is done to stem the tide.
This is a responsibility that our government, particularly the already overloaded Department of Health, cannot set aside even as we struggle mightily with a pandemic.*