By Sharon Atieno

Despite tremendous reduction in new HIV infections over the previous decade, there has been an increase in cases globally except for eastern and southern Africa, a new United Nation AIDS (UNAIDS) report reveals.

The report dubbed, Seizing the Moment shows that while there is a substantial decrease of 38% of new HIV infections in eastern and southern Africa between 2010 and 2019, there is an increase of 72% in eastern Europe and central Asia, 22% in the Middle East and North Africa and 21% in Latin America. 

In reaching the 90-90-90 target for 2020 set by the UN General Assembly’s 2016 Political Declaration on Ending AIDS, only 14 countries had achieved the 73% target of people living with HIV suppressing their viral load. These include: Australia, Botswana, Cambodia, Eswatini, Ireland, Namibia, the Netherlands, Rwanda, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“Eswatini and Switzerland have made the remarkable achievement of surpassing the 2030 targets of 95–95–95, meaning that a minimum of 86% of people living with HIV have suppressed viral loads,” the report reads.

Gains have been recorded in the HIV testing and treatment cascade with 81% of people living with HIV knowing their status, and more than two thirds (67%), on antiretroviral therapy that is about 25.4 million of the 38 million people living with HIV in 2019.

However, the 2020 targets of reducing AIDS-related deaths to fewer than 500 000 and new HIV infections to fewer than 500 000 will be missed as globally there were still 690,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2019 and 1.7 million new infection.

The UNAIDS report also finds that progress on the prevention of HIV transmission remains far too slow, with the 1.7 million new infections, marking a 23% decline in new HIV infections since 2010, but that was more than three times higher than the milestone set for 2020.

The report finds that the disruptions caused by the spread of the new coronavirus could see the global HIV response fall further behind on its 2020 commitments.

A modelling conducted on behalf of UNAIDS and the World Health Organization showed that a total disruption of antiretroviral therapy for six months could lead to more than 500 000 AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone by the end of 2021 while even a 20 % interruption of antiretroviral therapy would result in more than 110 000 additional AIDS-related deaths.

Speaking on diversion of HIV funds and resources during the launch of the report, Gracia Violeta Ross, President of the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV said: “Those of us who survived HIV and fought for life and access to treatment and care cannot afford losing the gains that took so much effort to win. In some Latin American countries we are seeing how HIV resources, medicines, medical staff and equipment are being moved to the fight against COVID-19.”

To fight the colliding epidemics of HIV and COVID-19, 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.

 “We cannot have poor countries at the back of the queue. It should not depend on the money in your pocket or the colour of your skin to be protected against these deadly viruses,” said the UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima.“We cannot take money from one disease to treat another. Both HIV and COVID-19 must be fully funded if we are to avoid massive loss of life.”

Additionally, Byanyima said that low income countries which depend on donor funding for HIV response will need to find other resources to fill the gap as the donor countries have been hit hard by COVID-19 and will most likely not be able to sustain their normal contributions in the coming years.