As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to its third year, an alarming report revealed that hard-won progress against HIV got stalled due to the global health crisis, putting millions of lives at risk.
The world has done great progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Ever since the AIDS epidemic that characterized the 1980s until the early 1990s, modern advances in medicine and awareness have made it possible to live a healthy life with the disease.
Unfortunately, the years-long decline in new HIV infections is slowly leveling off. In an alarming report released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), cases have begun climbing again in parts of Asia and the Pacific, just shortly after the numbers started declining. What’s more, the number of people on life-saving HIV treatments grew more slowly last year than in the last decade.
Inequities are also widening, with teen girls and young women in the sub-Saharan Africa found three times likely to get HIV than men of the same age and 650,000 people dying from AIDS-related illnesses last year.
According to Matthew Kavanagh, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, this is partly due to the pandemic changing the world and placing so many setbacks.
“This is an alarm to the world to say that COVID-19 has blown the AIDS response significantly off track,” he said.
Previously, the United Nations set a goal of fewer than 370,000 new HIV infections by 2025. There were about 1.5 million new cases last year, when HIV testing either slowed or stopped in many places because of COVID.
But the report also showed some bright spots. Among the highlights was a man in long-term remission after 30 years of living with HIV, thanks to a special bone marrow-like transplant. Furthermore, another study found that taking an antibiotic after unprotected sex could reduce the chances of getting STDs.
UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima said that while the public health fight against HIV is getting harder, it’s not too late to get back on track.
“Ending AIDS would cost much less money than not ending AIDS. The actions needed to end AIDS are also key for overcoming other pandemics,” she said.