There is no gainsaying that COVID-19 has had far-reaching consequences on almost every aspect of life and work. In the HIV arena, COVID-19 is threatening to roll back over four decades of investment in the epidemic and put countries off track to achieving various targets set for themselves especially the ultimate goal of ending AIDS by 2030. In view of this, experts at the ongoing International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) shared some thoughts on how countries could sustain the gains made in the HIV response amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
It was noted that the drivers of COVID-19 in Africa are reduced risk perception, reduced adherence to preventive protocols, new variants of concern, low vaccination rate and low detection rate. As revealed, COVID-19 has had direct consequences on HIV including making HIV a COVID-19 risk factor (i.e. risk of dying from COVID-19 higher in people living with HIV (PLHIV) and PLHIV being more susceptible to COVID-19 infection). COVID-19 has further impacted HIV service delivery negatively including HIV treatment, HIV testing and viral load testing primarily due to overstretched health systems and supply chain disruptions.
In spite of these, African countries have limited access to COVID-19 vaccines thereby deepening the woes and undermining the continent’s response efforts. It was further noted that COVID-19 has led to reduced international assistance to HIV as well as reduced health spending, as governments are presented with competing demands for their limited resources.
Some innovative measures were proposed to help mitigate the impact discussed. They include the use of telemedicine to ensure continuity of care; developing new ways of service delivery and capacity building; integrating COVID-19 RDT and vaccination into HIV services; data and evidence to guide HIV programming during COVID19.
It was strongly suggested that lessons learnt from the HIV response be employed in COVID-19 response as well. These include multi-sectoral response, rights-based approaches, putting people at the centre of the response, and using community-led organisations to deliver interventions and services. Also, there was the call to build, strengthen and invest in Africa’s scientific capacity and manufacturing of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
The conference continues till Saturday 11th December 2021. In line with its theme of Africa’s AIDS response: The race to 2030 – Evidence. Scale-up. Accelerates, the conference will continue to unpack evidence necessary for Africa’s acceleration to ending AIDS by 2030 in line with the SDGs.
The Ghana AIDS Commission is a supra-ministerial and multi-sectoral body established under the Chairmanship of H. E. the President of the Republic of Ghana by Act 2016, Act 938 of Parliament. The objective of the Commission is to formulate policy on the HIV and AIDS epidemic and...find out more