African diversity is a strength in fighting pandemics

Aeneas Chuma UNAIDS acting director South Africa
UNAIDS Regional Director Aeneas Chuma


“African countries need to rethink development and how they can build local capacity if the continent is to play its part in the global response to HIV and COVID-19,” he said.

“Rather than see the pandemic as the end, we could view this crisis as an opportunity for a collective effort to forge our own path at the global table for health.”


According to the Director, UNAIDS believes the continent is well-positioned to escalate its involvement in combating both scourges.

“Africa cannot be muted in the global conversations and its leadership must play a role not only in identifying the problems but also in seeking the solutions,” he said.

While the Covid-19 had a negative impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS globally, Chuma said South Africa had been making good progress in its response to AIDS before the pandemic.


Of the 7.5 million people living with HIV in South Africa, 5.3 million are on life-saving HIV treatment including antiretrovirals.


According to UNAIDS the global AIDS response was experiencing headwinds despite South Africa’s success story before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but the rapid spread of Covid-19 created setbacks.

The agency has modeled the pandemic’s long-term impact on the HIV response and the result show there could be an estimated 123 000 to 293 000 additional new HIV infections and 69 000 to 148 000 additional AIDS related deaths between 2020 and 2022.

“In terms of how we are doing with the UNAIDS 90–90–90 treatment targets, 92% of people living with HIV know their HIV status; of those people, 70% are on HIV treatment; and of those people on treatment, 62% are virally suppressed and cannot pass on the virus,” said Chuma.

However, he has warned that there are gaps that need to be addressed because one hundred and fifty adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV daily.

“Regarding COVID-19’s impact on AIDS, the global AIDS response is off track. However, it was off track even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the collision of COVID-19 and HIV has set it back further. Even though there has been significant progress in several countries, the 2020 AIDS targets have been missed by a long way,” said Chuma.

As of August 2020, WHO and UNICEF’s data show disruptions of HIV services caused by COVID-19 led to five countries reporting declined in people receiving treatment.

These include Zimbabwe, Peru,  Guyana, the Dominican Republic, and Sierra. Eighteen other countries including South Africa did not show a decline and some countries showed a steady increase such as Kenya.

HIV testing services post drop-off in numbers

HIV testing services posted a sustained decrease in most countries across the world excluding Rwanda.  Five countries, Myanmar, Mozambique, Madagascar, Rwanda and Armenia have rebounded to pre-COVID testing levels.

“2020 AIDS targets have been missed in several countries,” warned Chuma.

“However, rather than see the pandemic as the end, we could view this crisis as an opportunity for a collective effort to forge our own path at the global table for health. Communities have fought back to preserve the hard-earned gains. They have organized themselves to reverse interruptions in service delivery, supported each other and demanded inclusive social protection,” he said.

Chuma said Africa is fortunate to have what he called “veterans of the AIDS response” who are heading up the COVID-19 fight.

“We bring 30 years of experience to the COVID-19 response that we must use as lessons to confront this new pandemic,” he stressed.

“UNAIDS is working with governments and civil society to ensure that that people living with HIV have continued access to HIV prevention and treatment,” said Chuma.

It is through dealing with diversity in the fight against HIV/AIDS that has placed the continent in a better position right now he believes.

“What we have learnt is that communities in all their heterogeneity and diversity, must be at the centre of any health response.”

-Health-e News.















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