AIDS2020VIRTUAL: Access to HIV treatment and prevention remains a challenge

AIDS2020VIRTUAL: Access to HIV treatment and prevention remains a challengeThe 23rd Annual Aids conference hears progress on SDGs

Deborah Birx, a member of President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), told the 23rd International AIDS conference that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, they have continued to achieve most of their HIV sustainable development goals set for 2020.

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The United States is happy with the HIV Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) achieved so far, says Deborah Birx, a member of the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).

But she concedes that more work still needs to be done to ensure that each and every individual has access to HIV and Aids treatment and preventative services.

Speaking during the 23rd International AIDS conference on HIV sustainable development goals plenary session, Birx, says that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, they have continued to achieve most of their goals set for 2020.

According to the U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization predicts a six-month interruption in health services and treatment caused by the coronavirus could result in an additional 500,000 deaths from AIDS and related diseases in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 and 2021

UNAIDS executive director, Winifred Byanyima told delegates on the first day of the conference on Monday that progress had been made but was highly unequal.

According to the UNAIDS report released at the conference 38 million people have HIV and 690,000 died of AIDS-related diseases in 2019. About a third of the people with the infection were not receiving treatment.

Covid-19 has not yet derailed goals

Birx says that despite Covid-19 they have been able to continue meeting their goal from treatment of more than 16.5 million, women, men and children on ART to 24.5 million voluntary medical male circumcisions since 2003.

“5.8 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers have been provided with critical care and support”, she adds.

Goals remain the same despite Covid-19

She says the three key goals for 2020 are: Sustain the gains in countries that have achieved control and ensure treatment retention, accelerate control in the hand full of countries that are not on the brink of control and address the rising new infections or slow progress in key population epidemics around the globe.

“These were our goals before Covid-19 and this will be our goals after Covid-19, but we all as a community need to continually analyses and make sure that we are staying true to our goals of serving the needs of the communities”, she says.

Birx says that they have been using quantitative and qualitative data to continue to evolve their programme.

“We have used both granular quantitative and qualitative data to continue to evolve our programme and this has been really key. We have stopped poor viral load suppression in children and young adults due to continued Nevirapine (NVP) use-We stopped purchasing NVP. When we saw that majority of such incidences were occurring in children under 15 while going through voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). We changed the age for VMMC. We stopped funding VMMC in under 15”, says Birx.

Hard work still needed despite some achievements

Despite their achievement so far this year, Birx says that they still need to work even harder to ensure that each one has access to HIV treatment and prevention.

“We still need to do a lot of work to ensure that we are reaching each child who are on regiments to ensure that they remain viral load suppressed. We need to focus on each population from sex workers to men who have sex with men(MSM) to people who eject drugs, to transgenders to ensure that every single one has access to treatment and prevention services, even those who are in close settings such as prisons”, she says.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seventy-three countries have warned that they are at risk of stock-outs of antiretroviral medicines as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, an estimated 8.3 million people were benefiting from ARVs in the 24 countries now experiencing supply shortages.

PEPFAR invests more than $900 million annually to support health systems infrastructures and capacity in partner countries, including expertise in surveillance, lab, and public health response. Birx further says that communities must be recognized for their roles they play in the fight against the HIV pandemic.

“Essential role of peers and communities in providing insights services and qualitative data have been key in ensuring the elimination of users fees happening in West/West Central Africa. Community-led monitoring provides firsthand perspective on the implementation of quality services and minimum policies and standards”, added Birx. -Health-e News`.