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International respiratory forum calls on governments to strengthen response to HIV, Covid-19

01 December 2021 - 12:59
The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (Firs) says the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the focus from HIV testing. File image
The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (Firs) says the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the focus from HIV testing. File image

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (Firs) says the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the focus from HIV testing and restricted access to Covid-19 vaccines for people living with HIV.

The forum urged governments, health advocates and NGOs to strengthen their response to HIV/Aids and Covid-19 by making Covid-19 vaccines more accessible worldwide. 

“Covid-19 lockdowns and other restrictions disrupted HIV testing. In many countries, this led to steep drops in diagnoses and treatment referrals. In addition to the challenges posed by lockdowns, vaccines have not become accessible to many HIV patients.”

As of July 2021, less than 3% of people in Africa had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, despite Sub-Saharan Africa being home to 67% of people living with HIV.

“Patients who are HIV-positive remain at high risk for respiratory diseases like TB and Covid-19, so vaccination and early treatment are key,” said Lynn Schnapp, president of the American Thoracic Society (ATS), a Firs founding member.

“When treated with preventive therapy, latent TB can be managed and the Covid-19 vaccines widely available in much of the world can reduce the risk of severe illness and death significantly. It’s critical that HIV patients receive access to these life-saving measures.” 

 Firs believed a global response to HIV/Aids could be strengthened by:

  • Increasing awareness of the continuing global threat of HIV-related disease and its link to Covid-19 outcomes, TB infections and other respiratory diseases;
  • Improving health outcomes of people living with HIV through patient care, including Covid-19 vaccines, and research into improved treatments and treatment strategies for both HIV and TB;
  • Reducing the incidence and severity of HIV-related disease by strengthening mother-to-child transmission prevention programmes and increasing the early use of antiretroviral therapy;
  • Improving HIV education in at-risk communities to reduce the incidence of new HIV infections; and
  • Reducing HIV-related health disparities and inequities.

Meanwhile, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) says there is a need to refocus efforts to facilitate more equitable and inclusive access to HIV/Aids prevention and treatment interventions disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic during the past two years.  

“Covid-19 disproportionately affects already disadvantaged people, highlighting existing health disparities that have characterised the HIV epidemic.”

According to the HSRC, the most stigmatised, marginalised and disadvantaged populations, such as young women and youths, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs and commercial sex workers have suffered disproportionately from the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on the HIV/Aids response.

“Thus, there is an urgent need to revitalise strategies to reaccelerate the HIV/Aids response in the context of Covid-19.

“The same rigour and commitment that has been evident in the Covid-19 response should be adopted in refocusing global attention on addressing HIV/Aids, especially among key populations.”



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