UNOG - United Nations Office at Geneva

12/02/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 12/01/2021 17:57

World needs to tackle inequalities to end AIDS and all other pandemics

The combined effects of HIV and COVID-19 are reinforcing inequalities, and more must be done to reach those furthest behind, including sex workers, people who inject drugs, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and transgender people, who together account for 65 per cent of HIV infections worldwide.

This message came through clearly as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS in Geneva commemorated World AIDS Day during a joint online event today to remember the 36 million people who lost their lives to AIDS since the start of the pandemic and support those who are at risk.

"The global HIV pandemic has faded from the headlines, but it is far from over," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "Almost 38 million people across the world live with HIV every day. It doesn't have to be this way: we know we can do better."

The world is currently off track from delivering on the shared commitment to end AIDS by 2030. In addition to the 37.7 million people living with HIV, 1.5 million new HIV infections and 680 000 AIDS-related deaths were recorded in 2020.

A tale of two pandemics

The event highlighted how two global pandemics have made clear the growing fault-lines between regions, and how those already stigmatized by the one pandemic have suffered even more through the second. Many challenges remain in accessing medicines and public health worldwide.

A People's Vaccine Alliance video message narrated by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and UNAIDS' Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, made a parallel between the moral failure to provide Covid-19 vaccines to the poorest countries and the aid given to those with HIV and AIDS. Break the monopolies, share the know-how, deliver a people's vaccine, was the message of the video.

"Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, progress on combating HIV/AIDS had flatlined," Dr. Tedros pointed out. As key populations continue to face significant stigma, the pandemic has only made this worse, with new difficulties in accessing services for all those affected.

Community support essential

If one silver lining could be found, it was the community-led responses that reached those pushed furthest to the edges during the COVID-19 pandemic. These responses were often the voice of the marginalized, pointed out one speaker.

UNAIDS' Winnie Byanyima said the world urgently needed more community-led and community-based structures to help with prevention and providing services to those affected.

"Progress in aid, which was already off-track, is now under even greater strain, as the Covid-19 pandemic rages. Let's end inequalities, end AIDS, and then we can end all other pandemics," she urged. She also called for policies to ensure fair and affordable access to science.

Other speakers urged a strategy of patient and continuous engagement and dialogue to achieve structural changes, policy and legislative reforms, and promote best practices. The science and evidence must be promoted among affected communities, local governments, and society, as the time is now for urgent investment in political programs to break down structures causing discrimination.

Deliver the doses

In a letter read out to attendees, Prince Harry said it was striking to see that the world's most prominent AIDS activists are now leading the fight for access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Now more than ever, the voice of the silent majority needs to be heard, governments need to honour their promises and deliver the doses they have promised", he said. He added it was time to learn from the lessons of the AIDS epidemic and to continue efforts to save lives and make a difference.

UNAIDS and WHO warn that the next decade could see 7.7 million AIDS-related deaths if no action is taken to tackle discrimination and inequalities.