(TELESUR) – “The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history,” said WHO Director-General.
Modeling conducted for the two U.N. agencies revealed that a six-month interruption in HIV healthcare services could set the region back by a decade when almost one million AIDS-related deaths were recorded in 2008.
“The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“We must read this as a wake-up call to countries to identify ways to sustain all vital health services,” Tedros added.
The WHO chief said some countries were already implementing measures such as ensuring people can collect bulk packs of treatment and self-testing kits.
“We must also ensure that global supplies of tests and treatments continue to flow to the countries that need them,” he added.
Suspended services could also reverse work made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the agencies said, as HIV infections among children in sub-Saharan Africa have declined by 43 percent between 2010 and 2018.
New child HIV infections could rise by as much as 37 percent in Mozambique, 78 percent in Malawi and Zimbabwe, and 104 percent in Uganda, the modeling found.
“There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.
“We cannot sit by and allow hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young, to die needless deaths. I urge governments to ensure that every man, women, and child living with HIV get regular supplies of antiretroviral therapy – something that’s literally a life-saver,” Byanyima said.
Around 25.7 million people were living with HIV in Sub Saharan Africa in 2018. Among them, 16.4 million were taking antiretroviral therapy.
Since the first cases of HIV emerged at the beginning of the 1980s, 78 million people contracted the virus and 35 million have died from its consequences, said UNAIDS.