World AIDS Day: Multisectoral Response is Even Greater in COVID-19 Times

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(Caribbean Public Health Agency Press Release) This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most serious global public health challenges in recent times, and the world’s attention has been on the impact of COVID-19 on health, lives and livelihoods.  The pandemic has demonstrated how health is connected with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth.   With this in mind, the theme of World AIDS Day 2020 is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility”.  

Threatened livelihoods, disruption in supply chains, changes in health care delivery which affected access to health care are but some of the challenges that people living with HIV (PLHIV) face in 2020 due to the pandemic. Notwithstanding that, it was not known if people with clinically and virologically stable HIV would experience any greater risk for COVID-19 complications compared to the population without HIV infection.  In a systematic review[1] summarizing 25 studies on COVID-19 patients (252) living with HIV, two-thirds (66.5%) had mild to moderate symptoms.  Among patients who died, the majority (90.5%) were over 50 years old and had multimorbidity (64.3%).

The Caribbean region has made significant progress in reducing AIDS- related deaths.  The number of people dying of AIDS-related deaths have decreased from 11 thousand in 2010 to 6,900 in 2019.  During that same period, the Region has also seen a reduction of new HIV cases down from an estimated 18.000 new cases to 13.000 per year.[2]  In 2017 six CARPHA Member States were certified by the World Health Organization for having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.[3]  Despite the progress made, the management of HIV/AIDS remains a priority public health issue. Member States have pledged to step up efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.  SDG 3 aims to ensure health and well-being for all, including the commitment to end the AIDS epidemic.

“Efforts must continue to sustain and improve the progress that has been achieved in the fight against HIV.  The CARICOM region will only have continued success if we acknowledge and address the challenges affecting those living with or vulnerable to contracting HIV. The need for a multisectoral response is even greater in COVID-19 times.   We have to take innovative steps towards the global goals, so that our Region’s promise to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 can become a reality,” stated Dr. Joy St. John, CARPHA Executive Director.

Dr St John further stated “The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the difficulties in ensuring access for persons living with HIV, vulnerable communities and those facing inequalities, to receiving healthcare.  We need to ensure that the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS are not violated, and also ensure the continued provision of HIV services for children, adolescents and key populations during COVID-19.  It is therefore critical for us to have a whole of society approach involving community participation.  By strengthening community participation and working together we can end this HIV epidemic.”

In collaboration with partners, CARPHA supports initiatives such as ensuring access to health services, especially as countries move towards integration of HIV services in primary health care. This strategy is aimed at ensuring that persons, not only know their status, but are treated, so that the virus is reduced to undetectable levels so that it can no longer be transmitted to others.

Additionally, CARPHA supports regional initiatives aimed at reducing barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services and strengthening surveillance and monitoring and evaluation data, to better monitor the response in selected member states. CARPHA will continue to work closely with member states, regional and global partners to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

World AIDS Day is observed every year on 1 December.

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