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Coronavirus pandemic hit HIV treatment: UN report

Around 1.7 million people were infected by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in 2019 alone, said the Unaids report, adding that the progress in prevention, diagnosis and treatment was being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Updated: Jul 07, 2020 07:12 IST

By Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times New Delhi

In 2019, 690,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses, and 12.6 million people with HIV were not on life-saving antiretroviral therapy used to treat HIV/AIDS. (Reuters file photo)

At the end of 2019, there were 38 million people living with HIV, which causes AIDS, across the world, according to the United Nation’s annual report released on Monday. Of them, 7.1 million did not know that they were infected, the report said.

Around 1.7 million people were infected by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in 2019 alone, said the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (Unaids) report, adding that the progress in prevention, diagnosis and treatment was being impacted by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. About 2.8 million people were infected in 1998, when HIV/AIDS peaked.

“The response could be set back further, by 10 years or more, if the Covid-19 pandemic results in severe disruptions to HIV services,” the report said. Till date, HIV has infected 75.7 million and 32.7 have died due to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)-related illnesses.

In 2019, 690,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses, and 12.6 million people with HIV were not on life-saving antiretroviral therapy used to treat HIV/AIDS.



Also read: WHO halts hydroxychloroquine and combination of HIV drug trials among hospitalised Covid-19 patients

“Stigma and discrimination and widespread inequalities are major barriers to ending AIDS...Every day in the next decade, decisive action is needed to get the world back on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS.

Around 62% of the new HIV infections in 2019 occurred among vulnerable sections and their sexual partners, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs and people in prison, despite them constituting a very small proportion of the general population.

“This is the first time UNAIDS has admitted to a collective failure of countries and multinational agencies in failing to meet the 2020 targets. Countries have not focused enough on prevention, which has gone down. The increasing emphasis in treatment is needed but not at the cost of prevention in key vulnerable populations, who account for 62% of the new infections,” said JVR Prasada Rao, former health secretary and founder director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).

In India, there were 2.14 million people living with HIV at the end of 2017 (the last year for which data was released) with new infections rising in Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand, and declining in Nagaland, Manipur, Delhi and Chhattisgarh. Just eight states accounted for two-thirds of the 87,580 annual new HIV infections in India.

Among high-risk groups in India, HIV incidence was the highest among injecting drug users compared to other high-risk groups such as female sex workers, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and tans people, according to NACO data.

Also read: Sex workers lack food for taking HIV drugs during Covid-19

“The global political shift towards the right has also exacerbated stigma and discrimination with some countries in Africa criminalising behaviours that reduce access to preventive services,” said Prasada Rao, who is also a former special envoy at UNAIDS.

In 2019, funding for HIV was 30% short of the $ 26.2 billion needed to respond to HIV. Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously impacted the AIDS response and there could be more disruptions.

“We cannot take money from one disease to treat another. Both HIV and Covid-19 must be fully funded if we are to avoid massive loss of life,” said Byanyima.

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