COVID-19 pandemic could lead to HIV surge in West & Central Africa, says UNAIDS chief

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11/03/2021

DAKAR, Nov 3 (Reuters) – West and Central Africa could see a rise in HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in a few years due to disruptions in health services because of the coronavirus pandemic, the executive director of the U.N. AIDS agency said. Although human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection rates, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related deaths have been on a steady decline over the past decade, the region accounted for 22% of AIDS-related deaths in 2020. Around 200,000 people in West & Central Africa became newly infected with HIV last year out of a global total of 1.5 million, the United Nations AIDS agency’s (UNAIDS) data shows. New infections in the region were growing fast among vulnerable groups that include young girls and women, gay men, sex workers, drug users and prisoners, who don’t always have ready access to preventive measures and treatment. Winnie Byanyima said the jury was still out on the extent of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on HIV, but the agency is seeing examples of disruptions. “We are quite worried that when all the data comes in for this year (2021), that we might see a spike in new infections, and over a few years we might see more deaths,” Byanyima told Reuters on the sidelines of a health summit late on Tuesday.

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