When coronavirus broke out late last year, several individuals and international bodies predicted the worst for Africa. In their predictions, they projected millions of people to succumb to the disease once it landed on the African continent.
These projections have seemed to hold no water, as the disease has to a bigger extent been contained in Africa, with the least fatalities as compared to other continents.
Another projection, this time from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that the interruption of health services for people living with HIV/AIDS during the COVID-19 pandemic could see over 500000 people die of AIDS-related illnesses including Tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa in the period 2020 -2021.
This estimate, modelled by a group convened by WHO and UNAIDS, is based on the fact that health services that include distribution of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and self-testing kits, preventing mother-to-child transmission, among others.
It is true, some countries have diverted almost all their efforts and funding for their Health Ministries to the fight against COVID-19, rendering other groups of patients vulnerable.
Last month, people living with HIV in some regions in Uganda complained about their inability to access medical centres to have their ARVs refilled and receive other forms of treatment. This was due to the lockdown that was ordered by President Museveni in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
This is why WHO predicts an increase in IIDS-related deaths, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, something that the UN health body says if not checked, would be like stepping back in history.
“The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
“We must read this as a wake-up call to countries to identify ways to sustain all vital health services. For HIV, some countries are already taking important steps, for example ensuring that people can collect bulk packs of treatment, and other essential commodities, including self-testing kits, from drop-off points, which relieves pressure on health services and the health workforce. We must also ensure that global supplies of tests and treatments continue to flow to the countries that need them,” added Dr Tedros.
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said that the COVID-19 pandemic must not be an excuse to divert investment from HIV, because, “There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19, but the right to health means that no one disease should be fought at the expense of the other.”
According to WHO, an estimated 25.7 million people were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and 16.4 million (64%) were taking antiretroviral therapy in 2018.