World AIDS Day 2021: Covid-19 Pandemic Contributes To Increased HIV Infections

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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) continues to remain a major global public health issue, killing under 1 million people every year worldwide. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic is hampering the ongoing efforts to eradicate the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Limited or lack of access to life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services during the coronavirus pandemic are putting vulnerable people at increased risk of infection and death due to AIDS.

According to a new report by UNICEF, one child was newly infected with HIV every two minutes in 2020, amounting to at least 300,000 children in the year. Further, it revealed that one child died from AIDS-related causes every five minutes, or 120,000 children last year. The new HIV and AIDS Global Snapshot was released on Tuesday ahead of the World AIDS Day, which is observed on December 1 to promote awareness about HIV and the resulting AIDS epidemics.

The global pandemic has overloaded health care systems and restricted access to life-saving services, while rising poverty, mental health issues, and abuse are increasing children and women’s risk of infection, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

How Covid-19 pandemic impacted the fight against HIV

The report warned that a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities driving the HIV epidemic. ( we may see more children infected with HIV and more children losing their fight against AIDS,” Fore stated, as quoted by IANS.

Due to Covid-19 in early 2020, there were significant disruptions in HIV services in many countries. As per the UNICEF report, HIV infant testing in high burden countries declined by 50 to 70 per cent. In addition, new treatment initiations for children under 14 years of age dropped by 25 to 50 per cent.

Covid-induced lockdowns led to spikes in gender-based violence, limited access to follow-up care, and shortages of key commodities: all of which also contributed to increased HIV infection rates.

Further, several countries saw substantial declines in health facility deliveries, maternal HIV testing and antiretroviral HIV treatment initiation. For example, ART coverage among pregnant women dropped from 71 per cent to 56 per cent in South Asia in 2020.

The report warned that the ongoing pandemic could further disrupt health care services and widen the gaps in the global HIV response.

South-East Asia Regionaccounts for 12% of global AIDS-related mortality

On World AIDS Day, the WHO South-East Asia Region joins global calls to End inequalities and End AIDS the theme of this year’s commemoration.

According to WHO, around 680 000 people died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million people acquired HIV globally in 2020. About 38 million people are estimated to be living with HIV globally, out of which around 10% are in the South-East Asia Region. The WHO South-East Asia Region also accounts for 12% of global AIDS-related mortality.

On World AIDS Day, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Region Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh joins global calls to End inequalities and End AIDS the theme of this year’s commemoration. In recent years, the Region has achieved significant progress against HIV.

For instance, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have achieved the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Between 2010 and 2020, annual new HIV infections in South-East Asia Region reduced by 46% and AIDS-related deaths by 64%, Dr Khetrapal stated in a statement.

To facilitate progress in this Decade of Action, the Region is launching a new integrated Regional Action Plan for viral hepatitis, HIV and STIs (2022 2026) soon.

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