Geneva, Nov 30 (IANS): Unless leaders tackle stark inequalities, the world could face 7.7 million AIDS-related deaths over the next 10 years, the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) warned in a new report, ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.
HIV continues to be a major global health issue, having claimed 36.3 million lives globally so far. In 2020, around 680,000 people died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million people acquired HIV globally. An estimated 38 million people were living with HIV infection.
In a new report the agency calls on nations to stop Covid-19 and prepare for future pandemics by tackling inequality. It said if transformative measures are not taken, the world will stay trapped in the Covid-19 crisis and remain dangerously unprepared for all future pandemics.
"Progress against the AIDS pandemic, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the Covid-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programmes and more," said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, in a statement.
"We cannot be forced to choose between ending the AIDS pandemic today and preparing for the pandemics of tomorrow. The only successful approach will achieve both," she added.
The report showed how Covid-19 is undercutting the AIDS response in many places. The pace of HIV testing declined almost uniformly and fewer people living with HIV initiated treatment in 2020 in 40 of 50 countries reporting to UNAIDS.
HIV prevention services have been impacted -- in 2020, harm reduction services for people who use drugs were disrupted in 65 per cent of 130 countries surveyed.
While some countries, including some with the highest rates of HIV, have made "remarkable progress" against AIDS, the report pointed out that new HIV infections are not falling fast enough to stop the pandemic, with 1.5 million new HIV infections in 2020 and growing HIV infection rates in some countries.
"Pandemics find space to grow in the fractures of divided societies...work to end pandemics cannot succeed unless world leaders take the steps that will enable them to do so," said Helen Clark, Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, in the UNAIDS report.
The report also examined five critical elements that it said must be urgently implemented to halt the AIDS pandemic but are under-funded and under-prioritised.
These include community-led and community-based infrastructure, equitable access to medicines, vaccines and health technologies and supporting workers on the pandemic front lines.
It also reiterated that human rights must be at the centre of pandemic responses, with people-centred data systems that highlight inequalities.
"To catch up on pre-pandemic progress, key populations must be reached, including through institutionalised community engagement initiatives; sufficient and sustained domestic investments in HIV services must be secured, and made accessible at the primary health care level; high-impact innovations must be leveraged and action to address the epidemic's non-biomedical aspects, including legal and policy domains should be intensified," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, in a statement.