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UNAIDS seeks protection for drug users, gays, sexual workers, women, girls, others

…Says 1.7m infected with HIV in 2019 because they couldn’t access services


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THE Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, (UNAIDS) has called for protection of women and girls as well as an end to criminalization and marginalization of gays, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs, as part of measures to end social injustices that put people at risk of contracting HIV.

In a statement to commemorate 2020 World AIDS Day, Executive Director of the agency, Winnie Byanyima disclosed that 1.7 million people across the globe were infected with the disease in 2019 because they could not access essential services.

Another 12 million people already infected with HIV, she stated, were waiting to get treatment.

She said the disease “is threatening” the progress that the world had already made in health and development over the past 20 years, including the gains made against HIV.

Linking HIV with global COVID-19 response, Byanyima noted that the world could no longer make the same mistakes it made in the fight against HIV, when millions in developing countries died waiting for treatment.

She said like all epidemics, COVID-19 pandemic “is widening the inequalities that already existed. Gender inequality, racial inequality, social and economic inequalities; we are becoming a more unequal world.”

She lauded all people who work within communities to combat HIV, adding that they also invest their energies in combating coronavirus pandemic.

The UN Chief however appealed to scientists and firms that have succeeded in developing proven vaccines against COVID-19 to share their expertise with the rest of the world to allow for large-scale production, thereby saving lives.

“As the first COVID-19 vaccine candidates have proven effective and safe, there is hope that more will follow, but there are serious threats to ensuring equitable access. We are calling on companies to openly share their technology and know-how and to wave their intellectual property rights so that the world can produce the successful vaccines at the huge scale and speed required to protect everyone and so that we can get the global economy back on track.

“Our goal of ending the AIDS epidemic was already off track before COVID-19. We must put people first to get the AIDS response back on track. We must end the social injustices that put people at risk of contracting HIV. And we must fight for the right to health. There is no excuse for governments to not invest fully for universal access to health. Barriers such as up-front user fees that lock people out of health must come down,” she stated.

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She warned that as the world approaches the end of 2020, “the world is in a dangerous place and the months ahead will not be easy. Only global solidarity and shared responsibility will help us beat the coronavirus, end the AIDS epidemic and guarantee the right to health for all.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has WHO called for global solidarity to sustain HIV services.

In its 2020 HIV commemoration message, the agency called on global leaders and citizens to rally for “global solidarity” to maintain essential HIV services during COVID 19 and beyond – and to ensure continued provision of HIV services for children, adolescents and populations most at risk for the disease.

The Organisation also urged countries to provide health workers with greater protection and support so they could continue their work safely during the pandemic.

WHO said in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, testing for COVID-19 had heavily relied on the laboratory systems built and developed by HIV and TB programmes.

“Devices have been shared across programs as well as infrastructure, sample transport systems, and highly skilled staff,” it said.

The organisation explained that researchers are investigating whether people with HIV have an increased risk of poor outcomes with COVID-19, stressing that preliminary evidence of a moderate increased vulnerability of people with HIV makes it even more urgent that people with HIV have access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) and treatments for co-morbidities – such as treatment for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and tuberculosis.

WHO blamed COVID-19 for slow progress made towards global targets for diagnosis and treatment of HIV.

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