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HIV funding gap may widen due to COVID-19 pandemic

WHO advocates right of women, girls to stop new HIV infections

Current funding gap in HIV response could widen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an international non-governmental organisation, AIDs Healthcare Foundation (AHF), has said.

AHF is a global AIDS organisation operating in 41 countries, including Nigeria. It spoke through a statement it issued to commemorate the 2020 World AIDS Day.

The organisation said the global AIDS response has consistently fallen short each year by up to $6 billion of what is needed to fund efforts around the world.

“This gap will likely widen further with the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.

World AIDS Day is marked on December 1 annually to honour the many lives lost from the disease as well as the people living with HIV.

The Day is also celebrated to raise awareness about the disease and the need to know one’s status through HIV testing.

The theme for the 2020 World AIDS Day is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility.” Nigeria, however, joins the commemoration with a localised theme “United to End AIDS in the midst of COVID-19.”

According to the most recent UNAIDS statistics, 38 million people are living with HIV/AIDS around the world, and in 2019 alone, 1.7 million people became newly infected and 690,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses.

In Nigeria alone, about 45,000 people died from AIDS-related diseases last year.

This figure is likely to increase as donor funding for HIV could be under threat due to the global and national economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding gap

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Gambo Aliyu, said the country is working on an HIV trust fund to bridge the funding gap.

“We are building up the HIV Trust Fund, which will enable us to buy drugs that will at a minimum provide medications for about 40 per cent of people living with the virus,” he said.

He also said plans are underway to put state governments in the driver’s seat in response to the epidemic.

AHF urged government donors to give their fair share to improve on and continue HIV prevention efforts.

“This is to ensure everyone who needs it has equitable access to lifesaving care and treatment,” the organisation said.

COVID-19 pandemic & AIDS

The Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy, AHF, Terri Ford, said the pandemic has moved attention from other health issues around the world, including the AIDS epidemic.

He said the AIDS epidemic that still affects millions of people globally must not be forgotten.

“It’s vital that world leaders also keep their attention on HIV this World AIDS Day and beyond,” he said.

The AHF – Nigeria Country Programme Director, Echey Ijezie, called for concerted efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

He stated that reaching the target must be seen as a shared responsibility by every stakeholder.

‘‘It is only when we are united that we will be able to end AIDS even amidst Covid-19,” he said.

AHF Africa Bureau Chief, Penninah Iutung, said there is still a long way to go in the fight against HIV/AIDS around the world.

“It is simply unacceptable that people living with HIV in many parts of the world still struggle to get free or affordable testing and antiretroviral therapy.

“Even condoms are difficult to come by in many countries, though they are the most effective way to stop HIV transmission and extremely cost effective.

“As there is still no HIV vaccine on the horizon, guaranteeing prevention and treatment for all is the only way we’ll bring the virus under control,” she said.

The organisation has also unveiled a new theme – “AIDS: The Other Pandemic” to serve as a reminder that HIV/AIDS must be kept high on the global public health agenda despite the pandemic.

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