WHO advocates right of women to stop new HIV infections

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By Kamila Bello

The World Health Organisation says the rights of women, girls and gender equality must be the focus to stop new HIV infections.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti disclosed this in her message to mark the 2020 World AIDS Day, globally celebrated on Dec.1 to raise awareness of the pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.

According to Moeti, children living with HIV are not being adequately identified for treatment. Girls and women aged 15 – 24 years accounted for 37% of all new HIV infections; stigma and discrimination especially against key populations continue to create barriers to service access.

“Despite these challenges, significant progress is happening in African countries. 2020 is a milestone year towards ending AIDS epidemics and 81% of people living with HIV know their status.

Among them 70% of adults and 53% of children are receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

“Eighty five per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV are on ART, which protects their health and prevents HIV transmission to their newborn infants.

“There are 38 million people living with HIV and 67% of them are living in the WHO African Region,”  Moeti said.

Reports have it that in 2019, more than 1 million people in the region were newly infected with HIV, accounting for 60 per cent of the global total and sadly, 440,000 people in the region died from HIV related causes.

She urged communities, especially people living with HIV to be proactive in their self-care and in understanding how to prevent the spread of the infections.

She commended governments, partners and communities who have contributed to the progress on HIV in the Region and came up with innovative ways to keep services going during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are also contributing to the national COVID-19 response by creating and disseminating health messages, busting myths, and raising awareness.

“In Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Senegal, women living with HIV are serving as community pharmacists, visiting hard to reach semi-urban and rural areas to facilitate the home delivery of HIV treatment and medicines for other diseases.

To sustain and accelerate the gains made, Moeti urged governments and partners to come together, with the same level of urgency and leadership demonstrated in response to COVID-19, to increase domestic funding and strengthen health systems.

 “The pandemic was making it even more challenging for countries to provide these services, particularly in areas affected by conflict, disasters, outbreaks, and rapid population growth,” she said.

“There must be global solidarity and shared responsibility among all stakeholders to ensure integrated, people-centered, quality care, and an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities for HIV services.

“This World AIDS Day let us all demand global solidarity and shared responsibility to maintain HIV services during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond as we strive to achieve the 2030 targets,”  Moeti added.

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