Features, Health and Society Editor
The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted the AIDS response and could disrupt it more, UNAIDS Country Director for Zimbabwe Dr Martin Odiit has said.
In a lengthy interview with The Herald at the launch of the latest 2020 new Global AIDS report titled “Seizing the Moment” was released, Dr Odiit said a six-month complete disruption in HIV treatment could cause more than 500 000 additional deaths in sub-Saharan Africa over the next year (2020–2021), bringing the region back to 2008 AIDS mortality levels.
“Even a 20 percent disruption could cause an additional 110 000 deaths.
“The COVID-19 crisis is amplifying the deep inequalities that thwart the realization of individual and collective health rights,” he said.
Dr Odiit added that restrictions on movement compounded by economic and social stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have coincided with reports in many countries of increased numbers of women and girls facing abuse.
“Country-wide school closures implemented to fight the spread of the virus in more than 190 countries have led to more than 1.57 billion learners being out of school, including 743 million girls. The impact of this period of disrupted education will be far-reaching, and it is likely to hit marginalized girls the hardest,” he said.
To fight the colliding epidemics of HIV and COVID-19, he said, UNAIDS and partners are leading a global call for a People’s Vaccine for COVID-19, which has been signed by more than 150 world leaders and experts demanding that all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass produced and distributed fairly and free for all. “UNAIDS is also urging countries to increase investments in both diseases,” he said.