AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has called for a continuous fight against HIV/AIDS despite the challenge of COVID-19.
In a statement on Tuesday by Steve Aborisade, its Advocacy & Marketing Manager in Nigeria, AHF announced that it would again hold a series of events united by the motto “AIDS: The Other Pandemic” to commemorate World AIDS Day 2021.
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AHF also demanded that all who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses be remembered while those who are carrying on the fight be honoured.
It said: “This timely theme continues to serve as a reminder that even during the COVID-19 crisis, the world must protect the fragile gains made fighting HIV/AIDS, a pandemic that has raged for over 30 years.”
A recent report by the Global Fund shows the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted health systems and service delivery in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia last year.
As a result, HIV service delivery has been disrupted in nearly two-thirds of countries.
Additionally, HIV testing fell 41% from April to September 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
But AHF said despite many challenges, COVID-19 must not be used as a pretext to permanently scale back the global response to AIDS, saying the need to commit to fighting AIDS is greater than ever because of the pandemic.
“With the devastation, COVID-19 has brought upon the world, it’s understandably stayed at the forefront for the past nearly two years – which is why World AIDS Day is so critical for remembering ‘The Other Pandemic,’” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy.
”HIV/AIDS is still responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.
“While world leaders must battle COVID-19, including committing to real action on global vaccine access, they must also keep the promise on AIDS by ensuring HIV testing and lifesaving treatment reaches everyone who needs it.”
AHF will host diverse commemorative live and virtual events in most of its 45 countries.
The events seek to refocus the world on the AIDS pandemic and the people living with or affected by HIV globally and to serve as reminders of the importance of access to HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.
In Nigeria, AHF Nigeria said it would host two youths themed events, one at the Wuse Market in Abuja, spearheaded by adolescents, especially AHF Abuja Girls Act Chapter and other youth groups in a fun-filled outreach to draw the attention of young people to the challenges of HIV while impacting the needed knowledge they deserve to prevent themselves from the infection and to show the gains of staying on treatment for those who are positive.
Also at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, in collaboration with the institution’s Red Cross, AHF will be mounting a testing drive for the youthful population and providing awareness and education for the school population.
Across AHF other states of Benue, Kogi, Anambra, Cross River and Akwa Ibom, teams are actively involved in testing campaigns and media drive through radio programming to ensure that the maximum number of people are reached through live interviews and jingles cut in different indigenous languages to drive people to test and get on treatment.
Dr. Echey Ijezie, AHF Nigeria Country Program Director, said; ‘‘the 2021 WAD is particularly crucial for stakeholders to take stock and recommit to bridging the gaps left by Covid-19’’.
According to him, ‘‘It is interesting to note that despite the Covid-19, Nigeria was still able to make some significant gains of increasing the number of people on treatment.
“However, gaps are noticeable within pediatrics and PMTCT programming, with children getting infected by their mothers.
“This is one key area stakeholders in Nigeria must do more to reverse the trend and also end inequality as part of the drive to achieving epidemic control of HIV/AIDS.
“Furthermore, significant attention needs to be given to sustainable funding for HIV/AIDS.”
According to the most recent UNAIDS statistics, 38 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, and in 2020 alone, 1.5 million people became newly infected with HIV. While millions of people today are accessing life-saving antiretroviral therapy, millions more still desperately need it.
“While we have made great progress fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide, COVID-19 is threatening to erase those precious gains by disrupting the world’s ability to continue responding to HIV, particularly in our most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung, AHF’s Africa Bureau Chief.
“COVID-19 has also shown the glaring need for the world to prioritize solidarity and collaboration on vaccine access – and not charity from wealthy countries – as the way to end this crisis and lay the groundwork to protect against future ones.
“It’s time that world leaders acknowledge we’re an interconnected world and act accordingly by ensuring those most in need, whether for HIV or COVID-19, get the resources they need to lead healthy, productive lives.”
AHF is the largest global AIDS organisation that currently provides medical care and/or services to over 1.6 million people in 45 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Europe.