The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) says the HIV/AIDS sector in South Africa will not be able to recover from the gaps created by COVID-19. The organisation has shared how the health of many HIV positive patients were compromised when they didn’t have access to lifesaving medication during the lockdown.
This comes as the country commemorates World AIDS Day during the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations says there are fears that the global pandemic will reverse progress made in fighting and managing other life threatening diseases like HIV and TB.
The Treatment Action Campaign says the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of disruption to the HIV/AIDS and TB response programme. Chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala says patients had to share medication because some clinics were converted to strictly COVID-19 facilities and were not accepting patients with other health conditions.
“During the lockdown, we have seen a lot of disruption of services on the ground where people were not getting their medication. Government prioritised COVID-19 over other chronic illnesses including HIV services. We have seen people being lost to follow-ups due to challenges that we experienced during the lockdown. The challenge that we are having now is that it will be difficult to recover from all the gaps that were created during the lockdown.”
The South African National AIDS Council says the global pandemic is the reason why thousands of people have dropped out of HIV treatment in the past year, thus compromising their own battle with HIV and TB.
SANAC CEO Doctor Thembisile Xulu says, “A lot of the gains that we had made were reversed based on COVID-19. You know COVID-19 had a very negative impact on the HIV and TB response and people were not going to health facilities for multiple reasons. So the Department of Health and SANAC are leading a campaign called the welcome back campaign and this is us initially creating awareness and targeting people to come back into care.”
Health research body – the Aurum Institute says the situation could have been worse if the earlier predictions on the impact of COVID-19 on HIV patients were true. Doctor Regina Osih, Senior Technical Expert at the Aurum Institute says it is reassuring that people living with HIV have been spared the devastation that was anticipated with COVID-19.
Earlier predictions indicated that HIV positive people were at a higher risk of contracting and even dying of COVID-19.
“There was an expectation that people with HIV were going to be much more affected. Although this is the case it’s not in the magnitude that was expected. So the only studies show that perhaps there is two-fold higher mortality in people living with HIV and these are early studies from South Africa and so that was something that was relatively reassuring although not fully reassuring but we are hoping that it wasn’t going to be a massive setback for people living with HIV in terms of them contracting COVID on top of HIV.”
Earlier, UNAIDS said COVID-19 could lead to the deaths of half a million HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa if an interruption to HIV and TB services continues.
UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Shannon Harder, “Modelling that WHO and UNAIDS did, projects that a six-month interruption of HIV treatment alone in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to massive loss of lives, 500 000 additional deaths this year alone bringing us to 2008 death levels. This could mean losing a decade of progress in just one year.”
People living with HIV
According to UNAIDS:
- In 2019, 38 million people worldwide were HIV positive.
- 36.2 million adults.
- 1.8 million children (0–14 years).
- 81% of all people living with HIV knew their HIV status.
- About 7.1 million people did not know that they were living with HIV.
In her World AIDS Day message, Executive Director Winnie Byanyima says COVID-19 is threatening the progress that the world has made in health and development over the past 20 years, including the gains “we have made against HIV.”
Read the World AIDS Day 2020 message from UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima:
Meanwhile, the Treatment Action Campaign wants TB to be declared a public emergency saying if it could be done with COVID-19, it can also be done with TB which claims thousands of lives each year.
Observing World Aids Day with Prof Ameena Goga: