By Cecilia Ologunagba
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, says the rights of women and girls, and gender equality, must be the focus to stop new HIV infections.
Moeti said this in her message to mark the 2020 World AIDS Day, globally celebrated on Dec. 1 to raise awareness of the pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.
According to her, children living with HIV are not being adequately identified for treatment.
Moeti said girls and women aged 15 years and 24 years accounted for 37 per cent of all new HIV infections, and stigma and discrimination especially against key populations continue to create barriers to service access.
“Despite these challenges, significant progress is happening in African countries. 2020 is a milestone year towards ending AIDS epidemics and 81 per cent of people living with HIV know their status.
“Among them, 70 per cent of adults and 53 per cent of children are receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).
“Eighty-five per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV are on ART, which protects their health and prevents HIV transmission to their newborn infants.’’
Globally, Moeti said “there are 38 million people living with HIV and 67 per cent of them are living in the WHO African Region.
“In 2019, more than one million people in the region were newly infected with HIV, accounting for 60 per cent of the global total, and sadly, 440,000 people in the region died from HIV-related causes.”
She, however, urged communities, especially people living with HIV, to be proactive in their self-care and in understanding how to prevent the spread of the infections.
“This World AIDS Day let us all demand global solidarity and shared responsibility to maintain HIV services during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond as we strive to achieve the 2030 targets.
“The theme of World AIDS Day this year is “global solidarity and shared responsibility” because in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing how important it is for the world to come together.
“We have seen how important for world to come together with determined leadership from governments and communities to sustain and expand access to essential services, including HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care.
“The pandemic is making it even more challenging for countries to provide these services, particularly in areas affected by conflicts, disasters, outbreaks and rapid population growth.
“This is on top of the fact that in the African Region new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are not reducing fast enough to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending AIDS epidemics by 2030,’’ the regional director said.
She commended the governments, partners and communities who had contributed to the progress on HIV in the Region, and come up with innovative ways to keep services going during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For example, young people living with HIV in Zambia are advocating for the elimination of stigma, adherence to HIV treatment, access to sexual and reproductive health services, and mental health support.
“They are also contributing to the national COVID-19 response by creating and disseminating health messages, busting myths, and raising awareness.
“In Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Senegal, women living with HIV are serving as community pharmacists, visiting hard to reach semi-urban and rural areas to facilitate the home delivery of HIV treatment and medicines for other diseases.
“They are helping to ensure that no one is left behind during the COVID-19 crisis,’’ she said.
To sustain and accelerate the gains made, Moeti urged governments and partners to come together, with the same level of urgency and leadership demonstrated in response to COVID-19, to increase domestic funding and strengthen health systems.
“There must be global solidarity and shared responsibility among all stakeholders to ensure integrated, people-centred, quality care and an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities for HIV services,’’ she said
The New Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Dec. 1 every year, the global community comes together to mark World AIDS Day to show support for people living with HIV and to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS.