Health HIV and AIDS

There are lessons from HIV on how to effectively respond to Covid-19 and beyond, says UNAIDS

There are lessons from HIV on how to effectively respond to Covid-19 and beyond, says UNAIDS
Taking lessons from HIV (File Photo).
Written by Nelisiwe Msomi

The response to Covid-19 can learn much from how countries in southern Africa handled the HIV pandemic. A new report by UNAIDS says the coronavirus pandemic is a chance to reimagine health systems.

The response to Covid-19 should have a community centred approach in its planning and implementation, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS’ (UNAIDS) latest report.

The international body says dealing with the global pandemic needs to be multi-sectoral, addressing the social and structural inequalities. To get this right, the response to the pandemic must be grounded in human rights and equality, says UNAIDS.

The report suggests policy measures to ensure states’ response to the coronavirus pandemic does not marginalise certain groups. Covid-19 response strategies must also ensure adequate access to prevention and treatment services.

Learning from the HIV response

 The international NGO sees an opportunity in the pandemic, though. The 32-page document says Covid-19 responses provide the opportunity to build substantial infrastructure, research and policies, in the same way public responses to HIV did. The service delivery systems created through HIV investments are already serving as primary service sites for Covid-19 patients.

“HIV investment analyses have aided countries such as Namibia, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania to identify efficiencies in the national response that improve returns on investments and buttress the long-term sustainability of HIV programmes through policy changes, programmatic innovations and more targeted and strategic resource allocations,” the report states.

Covid-19 responses also need the strong political will that witnessed with the creation of HIV responses. The report characterises it as consistent, courageous, ambitious, inclusive and driven by scientific evidence.

“In South Africa, home to one in five people living with HIV, early denial about the seriousness of the HIV epidemic has been supplanted by inspired political leadership, with the domestic public sector now covering more than 76% of all HIV-related spending in the country,” the report says.

Reimagining systems for health

Covid-19 could encourage states to reimagine health systems. The pandemic has exposed weaknesses such as under-resourced, unprepared public health systems. These would have been unable cope with a surge in Covid-19 infections or sustain other essential health services.

By taking the lessons of the HIV response, Covid-19 responses can aid in transforming these weak health systems.

“With the flaws of current systems at the front of our minds, we must use the Covid-19 challenge as an opportunity to reimagine systems for health that work for people; maximise efficiency and effectiveness; attract sufficient resources and engage communities as essential partners for health,” the report states.

A new healthcare system needs to be inclusive of everyone who needs medical attention, especially groups that are most vulnerable to stigma, discrimination, violence and criminalisation. This is an approach the HIV response taught, leading to the current near universal availability of treatment in southern Africa. Covid-19 means health care systems could broaden this approach to other illnesses. – Health-e News

About the author

Nelisiwe Msomi