By HENRY OWINO
Every year, on 1 December, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. People around the world unite to show support for people living with and affected by HIV and to remember those who lost their lives to AIDS.
In the year 2020, the world’s attention has been focusing on COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods.
Though HIV has been here with us for over 4 decades now without a vaccine, COVID-19 which is just clocking its first full year, already has three potential vaccines on the offing.
COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated that, during a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Leaving people behind is not an option if every country is to succeed.
Eliminating stigma and discrimination, putting people at the centre and grounding their responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19.
Nonetheless, this is showing how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth. With this in mind, this year 2020, the theme of World AIDS Day is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility“.
So, may be or may not be real, had efforts been put together towards HIV just like in COVID-19, then the world pandemic could have been a forgone healthcare problem.
These are some the sentiments echoed by various scientists during World Aids Day held via webinar by Health and Science Department, University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Dr Loice Ombajo, Head of Infectious Disease Unit at Kenyatta National hospital said COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the entrenched inequalities existing in our societies. This health crisis, like many others, is hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the challenges faced by people living with HIV, women and girls and key populations, including in accessing life-saving health care, and the crisis has widened the social and economic inequalities that increase the vulnerability of marginalized groups to HIV.” Dr Ombajo said.
Dr Ombajo said the rights of women and girls, and gender equality, should be at the centre of decision making. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected women’s livelihoods, which have been disproportionally affected by lockdown measures.
“Lockdowns have increased violence against women in household settings. Women must be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives,” Dr Ombajo emphasized.
She lamented that the world cannot afford rollbacks in decades of hard-won gains in gender equality. Arguing it is the moment for bold leadership for equal societies, the right to health for all and a robust and equitable global recovery.
However, Dr Omu Anzala, a virologist and immunologist at KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research said this crisis has also been a wake-up call, an opportunity to do things differently better, and together. In many respects, the defeat of AIDS as a public health threat depends on how the world responds to COVID-19.
“Leadership and engaging communities is very instrumental in the success of the AIDS response. That has been key in responding to COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Anzala revealed.
Dr Anzala stated there are countless examples of how community activism and solidarity have been paramount in providing people affected by HIV with information, services, social protection and hope. However, such solidarity cannot be the sole responsibility of communities.
He pointed that government, donors, faith leaders, civil society and each and every one need to contribute in making the world a healthier place.
Dr Anzala highlighted: “Global solidarity and shared responsibility requires us to view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a new way. It requires the world to come together to ensure that:”
Health is fully financed: Governments must come together and find new ways to ensure that health care is fully funded. No one country can do it alone. Domestic and international funding for health must be increased.
Health systems are strengthened: Investments in the AIDS response in the past few decades have helped to strengthen health systems and have been supporting the COVID-19 response. But more needs to be done to further strengthen health systems and protect health-care workers.
Access is ensured: Life-saving medicines, vaccines and diagnostics must be considered as public goods. There must be global solidarity and shared responsibility to ensure that no individual, community or country is left behind in accessing life-saving health commodities.
Human rights are respected: A human rights approach applied everywhere will produce sustainable results for health. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in society and how key populations have been left behind in many parts of the world.