The Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Winnie Byanyima, has said that there could be a rise in HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in West and Central Africa in a couple of years due to the disruptions suffered in health services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although over the past decade, the United Nations AIDS agency’s data showed that the number of infections of HIV and AIDS has been on a steady decline, in 2020 the region accounted for 22% of AIDS-related deaths as around 200,000 people in West and Central Africa became newly infected out of a global total of 1.5 million.
These new infections in the region have been recorded amongst vulnerable groups, including young girls and women, gay men, sex workers, drug users and prisoners, who don’t always have ready access to preventive measures and treatment.
What they are saying
The pandemic brought along a disruption in medical services thereby cutting access to emergency medical responses and treatments to non-Covid-19 related illnesses.
Director Byanyima spoke with Reuters saying, “We are quite worried that when all the data comes in for this year (2021), that we might see a spike in new infections, and over a few years, we might see more deaths.”
“We are seeing across countries, a decrease in people receiving prevention, a decrease in people testing, and increasing numbers of people falling out of treatments. These are not good signs, but we don’t yet know what the impact will be on new infections and deaths.”
During the heat of the pandemic, health systems in the region were overstretched resulting in the diversion of resources that were already stretched pre-pandemic. With lockdowns enforced the inaccessibility to HIV prevention and treatment also got intensified.