The first of December 2020 marks the 32nd annual World AIDS Day. An important day dedicated to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS and remembering those who are living with HIV and those that have died from AIDS-related illnesses. 

The current HIV situation 

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 38 million people around the world were living with HIV in 2019. Around 36.2 million of them were adults and 1.8 million were children under the age of 15. Globally in 2019, women and girls comprised about 48% of all new HIV infections in  (59% in sub-Saharan Africa). The vast majority of people with HIV are located in low- and middle-income countries. 

Thankfully, there have also been promising improvements: There’s been a reduction in the number of new HIV infections (by 23% since 2010) and AIDS-related deaths (by 39% since 2010). TB remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV. 

2020 has been a truly challenging year in global health. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic been a catastrophic health issue, it has hindered HIV/AIDS progress around the world in a number of ways:

  • UNAIDS has reported that human, financial and laboratory resources have been diverted away from HIV and towards COVID-19. Like in parts of Latin America
  • Testing of HIV has decreased as companies instead focus on producing COVID-19 tests. 
  • COVID-19 has lessened the numbers of people going in for HIV treatment. For example, clinics in central Johannesburg have seen a 10-25% drop in people seeking HIV treatment. 
  • Lockdowns and border closures have disrupted the production and distribution of the medicines necessary to treat HIV. According to WHO, 24 countries have experienced critical shortages in HIV medication. 
  • The shutdown of transportation services have also impeded people’s ability to travel and buy medication, as was the case for a HIV-positive man in Odisha, India. 
  • The HIV Medicine Recycling Program, a US charity that distributes HIV medication to thousands of people who need it, was forced to close its doors during the lockdown. 

These problems have the potential to greatly increase the number of AIDS-related deaths in the short-term. In fact the World Health Organization and UNAIDS have projected that the disruptions in HIV therapy could lead to 500,000 additional deaths over the next year, in sub-Saharan Africa alone. 

In the long-term, COVID-19 threatens to impede UNAIDS from reaching their aim of eliminating the HIV/AIDS threat by 2030. The deprivation of resources for HIV and AIDS could prevent scientific breakthroughs in the understanding and treatment of the virus. 

The fight continues

While we all recognise and lament those setbacks, it’s important to remain focused. The theme of World AIDS Day 2020 is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility”. This can be seen as an inspiring call not to give up the fight against HIV and AIDS due to COVID-19 but for the whole world to come together and solve all these health crises for the benefit of all people. It’s possible to End COVID For All and ensure long and healthy lives for all too. 

Now go out and buy a red ribbon! 

Markos Hasiotis was a RESULTS Lead Advocacy Group member in Victoria. He works as a writer/researcher for several outlets and his goal is to spread beneficial information to as many people as possible and counteract harmful mistruths. He also volunteers in the sustainability and mental health sectors.