In the last two years, we have seen how the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cancer patients, CVDs and more. But less is spoken about the damage done in terms of impact on deadly infectious diseases such as HIV. According to a Global Fund report that compared 2019 and 2020 data, Covid-19 has been the most significant setback in the fight against HIV, TB and malaria, that they have encountered in the two decades.
How Covid impacted AIDS intervention
As the country went into lockdown and resources were diverted to combat the pandemic, prevention, testing and treatment services for all these diseases dropped precipitously, although the impacts vary for each disease. Hard-won gains in HIV prevention, with the number of people newly infected with HIV declining by 23% since 2010, were put in danger of being reversed by the Covid-19 pandemic—and populations already left behind were also at risk of falling further behind.
For HIV, the number of people reached by prevention programs that supply condoms or clean needles and syringes, for example, dropped by 11%. HIV testing fell by 22%, delaying treatment and contributing to ongoing transmission of the virus.
How organisations and communities played a role in helping people
Having said that, organisations such as UNAIDS along with HIV-affected communities have played an important role in delivering antiretroviral therapy to people who were not able to collect it themselves. Bold steps were taken in the face of considerable adversity and with limited financial assistance, to assure continued HIV prevention services to community members but also to support measures to prevent Covid-19 and manage its consequences.
To overcome the constraints imposed by pandemic-related restrictions these organisations campaigned for multi-month dispensing of medicines and supplies, ensured their delivery and brokered financial support, food and shelter to marginalised groups at higher risk. They utilised of virtual platforms to meet the multiple needs and concerns of beneficiaries. In most settings, these measures have managed to compensate for the breakdown of formal health services and enable a rapid rebound in the delivery of essential services to those in need. However, a lot more needs to be done.
The most worrying fact is that the crisis is far from over, especially with new variants surfacing. In such circumstances getting back on track for HIV elimination will be difficult.
A call to action
There is a need for people to be sensitised on the ways by which we can control and tackle AIDS even if resources are less. In the longer run, specific efforts will be needed to ensure that the move towards universal health coverage reflects the key attributes of the HIV response and that all services provided are free of stigma and discrimination and that these service packages include essential HIV diagnostic, treatment, and prevention services.
It is time, India unanimously fights the battle against HIV/AIDS.
(The author is an Infectious Disease Specialist at Fortis Hospital, Mulund)
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