NGOs scramble to dampen COVID-19’s impact on people living with HIV

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10/18/2021

NEW YORK/PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa, Oct 18 (Openly) – South African domestic worker Mabuyi Dlamini always dreaded the bumpy, day-long minibus journey she had to make each month to pick up her HIV medication from the nearest clinic in KwaZulu-Natal province. So when a mobile medical service carrying nurses, counsellors and supplies of antiretroviral drugs began visiting her district two years ago, she was relieved. During COVID-19 lockdowns that made travel impossible, it became a lifeline. “It has saved me time, money and my health,” said Dlamini, 46, as she waited in line with farm workers next to the blue minivan on a dirt road bordered by thick, green sugarcane crops. HIV professionals battling to maintain services during the coronavirus pandemic have been adopting similarly innovative methods – from mailing out prescriptions to scaling up self-testing and video consultations. Their creative approach appears to have helped buck forecasts for a plunge in global HIV treatment rates, though international organisations say the coronavirus has still dealt a blow to the global fight against HIV. But even before COVID-19, a target set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for 73% of HIV-positive people to be on antiretroviral drugs and have a fully suppressed virus was missed. And there were an estimated 1.5 million new infections and 680,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2020, far higher than the UNAIDS goal to limit both to 500,000 per year. “COVID has knocked us further off track,” said Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund, a Geneva-based multilateral organisation that invests some $4 billion per year to fight tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult to get fully back on track on HIV until we have got on top of COVID,” he added in a Sept. 22 video conference. Last year, HIV testing fell 22% in the more than 100 low- and middle-income countries where the organisation invests. At the same time, there was an 11% drop in the number of people reached by HIV prevention programmes. Sub-Saharan Africa continued to bear the brunt of new transmissions and deaths, according to UNAIDS.

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