Scientists say thousands of young African girls continue to bear the brunt of the AIDS and HIV scourge.  New research shows that 4 000 people are infected daily. 25% of them are young African women. The other vulnerable groups include homosexuals and drugs users.
The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDCP) and the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) have held a webinar to commemorate World AIDS Day this week.
40 years after it was discovered, AIDS still wreaks havoc in many communities. The world has about 38 million people living with HIV with 70% in Africa. Health scientists say a new paradigm shift is needed urgently.
CAPRISA’s Prof Salim Abdool Karim says, “We have got to move to a whole new strategy of a provider-initiated strategy where prep becomes a norm in high-risk communities. Just think where PMTC how low the uptake for HIV  testing in pregnant women until we shifted it from a user-initiated testing approach to a provider-initiated where it became the norm that you walk in as a pregnant woman you will get an HIV test and PMTC medication if necessary. We have to shift our thinking about prep along those lines.”
Preventative measures

Australian authorities want HIV preventative measures to be scaled up.  They say after implementing this response a few years ago in their country, there was a sharp decline in new HIV infections by at least 70% amongst homosexual men.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, gay men and drug-injecting users take the lead.

Clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist at CAPRISA Professor Karim says, “In Ukraine and in Russia, we see that new infections continue at a very high rate in key populations such as men who have sex with other men and injecting drug users. But in Africa is a general population especially young women.

“We will not achieve HIV control unless we can change that. Already by age 15, about 6% of young women have HIV. When you get to age 30 the prevalence is all the way up to 70%.”

Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman of the Medicine and Infectious Diseases Unit at the University of Malaya in  Malaysia, says scaling-up HIV preventative measures can reduce new infections.

She says a country like Australia that implemented this response has seen a decline in new HIV infections of at least 70% among homosexual men.

“Australia has seen a sharp decline in HIV infections especially amongst gay men who were at high risk. Now, what has Australia done right that has not been seen in any other countries worldwide? I think its response has been achievable due to a high level of political support, targeted response to HIV and together with a highly functional health care system or universal health care.”

COVID-19 takes centre stage

Epidemiologists and activists say the COVID-19 pandemic has also compromised HIV testing due to stricter lockdown regulations.

HIV/AIDS activist organisation – the Treatment Action Campaign – says it is concerning that the fight against HIV and AIDS has taken a back seat in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairperson of TAC, Sibongile Tshabalala says the pandemic is compromising HIV services. She is appealing for a shift in how ARVs are dispensed, so people do not regress on treatment.

“When COVID strike we were initiating on how we can introduce more people to ARVs. But then COVID-19 came and took over the attention from HIV fight and other fights that we already had in the country. What we have seen in the country happening was seeing people dying of COVID but also those living with HIV felt neglected.”

Prof Karim adds, “Attention for HIV is declining. In this survey, the number one challenge around the world in 2020 was the coronavirus. It eclipsed unemployment, poverty, political corruption. So COVID-19 has taken centre stage. HIV has shifted to being on the sidebar.”

Half of South Africa’s 7.7 million people living with HIV are on treatment.

The United Nations says 90% of people living with HIV must know their status by 2030.

Mabuza engages with traditional, interfaith leaders on HIV/AIDS, TB, STIs and COVID-19 response:

‘Leading causes of death in Africa’

Professor Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says Aids remains one of the leading causes of death, especially in Africa.

“We need leadership that is unashamedly committed to Aids, not trying to talk about other things all the time …no. This is about Aids. It is still the first cause of death in Africa for example. It is still killing every year. We need to revitalise activism, we need to rethink coalitions and where they are working together from one country to another. We need to rejuvenate strategy adapted to the realities on the ground, funding realities and lastly maintain research.” -Additional reporting by Nonjabulo Mntungwa-Makamu