The South African National AIDS Council (Sanac) wants HIV and TB screening to be incorporated into the testing and screening for COVID-19.

Sanac says it does not want to see a reversal of progress made in the country’s HIV and TB response due to the emergence of the coronavirus.

Community organisation People Living with HIV says it is concerned that health officials have shifted their focus entirely to COVID-19, resulting in other diseases being neglected.

It says this has led to a shortage of antiretrovirals and other essential services, especially in the North West.

People Living with HIV’s Sello Mkhaliphi says, “There’s a massive shortage of medication specifically around Rustenburg. We are afraid that this might grow to other provinces. Second one there’s fear instilled to people living with HIV where we see some of them not going to collect their medicine because of not having permits to be on the streets, the fear is instilled by videos they see on social media on a daily basis.”

 

Sanac says since the lockdown, screening, testing and initiating people on HIV and TB medication has stopped. Some clinics have been converted into COVID-19 only facilities which then exclude people with other chronic conditions.

Sanac CEO Doctor Sandile Buthelezi, says HIV and TB should be included in COVID-19 screening.

Buthelezi says, “Actually if integration is done well what we actually anticipate as negative consequences of COVID-19 can be translated into health gains since HIV and TB are non-communicable diseases…”

“All we need to be doing now is integrate the screening…” added Buthelezi.

He says extraordinary measures are needed to deal with the extraordinary circumstance brought about by COVID-19. But he adds that this should also translate into better management of all diseases.

Buthelezi says, “Access and care could be delivered digitally in a number of areas. We are seeing a lot of people coming up with innovative mechanisms so we need to be introducing these and the COVID-19 is the right platform. But then also link that up with HIV and TB as we move forward…”

He says,”We already know that there is an antibiotic that has actually been developed using artificial intelligence so what stops us from using artificial intelligence for other areas?”

United Nations agency, UNAIDS, says community activists are critical in the drive for better health services in times of crisis.

UNAIDS Country Director Mbulawa Mugabe says, “When a possible vaccine or treatment becomes available this will begin to be made available in affluent countries and there will be less access in countries and populations that actually have larger epidemics and less resources and we learnt that from HIV that activists have to demand equal access to whatever treatment is made available.”

 

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