Regaining ground lost to COVID important in fight against HIV/Aids, say experts

Experts said even before the COVID-19 pandemic they were far from reaching their targets, in particular those geared at prevention and bringing down new infections.

FILE: Indian social activists and children release a World AIDS Day awareness sign tied with ballons in Kolkata on 1 December, 2015. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - Health experts said that regaining ground lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic was an immediate focus in the fight against HIV/Aids.

Countries around the globe will on Wednesday commemorate World Aids Day, while some at the same time are also battling rising coronavirus infection numbers.

It's estimated around eight million South Africans are presently infected with HIV/Aids.

Experts said that even before the COVID-19 pandemic they were far from reaching their targets, in particular those geared at prevention and bringing down new infections.

South African National AIDS Council CEO Dr Thembisile Xulu said that the pandemic just exacerbated the situation.

"Whether it was financial resources or human resources, initially the lab capacity that we use for TB, which were the gene expert platform, were used for COVID-19 testing. We also had a lot of fear amongst people being afraid to go to health facilities, to go for their clinical visits or to pick up medication."

Xulu said that they were also addressing men's healthcare seeking behaviour as part of the battle to end HIV/Aids.

"The current national strategic plan for HIV is still valid and rather than use this last year which is year five to develop a new document, we are better off accelerating the TB and HIV programme by essentially implementing catch-up plans not only driven from national but also at provinces," Xulu explained.

A recent UNICEF HIV and Aids Global Snapshot warned that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic "is deepening the inequalities" driving the HIV epidemic.