How is COVID-19 Impacting the Fight to End AIDS?
Today, June 5th, marks the 39th anniversary since the United States CDC announced the first known cases of a mysterious illness, now known as AIDS. Almost 40 years later, after over 33 million deaths and four decades of heroic activism, the world has made extraordinary progress in this fight. Over 25 million people are now on treatment worldwide, AIDS deaths have been cut by 60% since their peak and the number of babies born with HIV every day has reduced by 2/3rd since 2000.
But, AIDS is still a crisis and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it could get worse. 38 million people are living with HIV, and 26 million of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. 690,000 people still die every year from AIDS-related illnesses and AIDS is the leading cause of death among young women worldwide. The impact of COVID-19 may overburden already weakened health systems and discourage those most at-risk from accessing critical health services for treatment and prevention.
Nowhere is this impact being felt the most than in the most vulnerable communities. According to the WHO and UNAIDS, disruptions in health services and drug supplies due to the Coronavirus pandemic could cause more than 500,000 additional and needless deaths from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa between 2020 and 2021. New HIV infections among children may increase by up to 104% in some African countries within the next six months if COVID-19 remains unchecked.
And to further compound the issue, marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people—are most vulnerable to HIV service interruptions and additional harm during the COVID-19 pandemic. Worsening stigma and discrimination, human rights violations and violence may prohibit them from accessing the necessary health services they need, including access to HIV treatment and testing.
After nearly 40 years since its discovery, AIDS remains not simply an issue of health, but one of human rights.
This is where (RED) comes in. Whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic or the AIDS epidemic, we can’t afford to leave anyone behind in the fight for equal and equitable access to health services. To do this, we must continue collaboration between public organizations and private sector companies, global leaders and local activists and health experts and government officials—both in America and globally. The fight to end AIDS requires all of us.