01 December 2020 | Statements

Unitaid reaffirms its commitment to the fight against HIV in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

This World AIDS Day 2020, Unitaid reaffirms its commitment to the fight against HIV, while calling for innovative solutions to overcome stagnating progress towards global targets and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite significant gains achieved in the fight against HIV, global targets for 2020 have been missed.

Global efforts to meet international targets were already off-track in 2019, and progress has been further derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since April 2020, in 36 countries which are home to almost half of all people on antiretroviral therapy (ART), disruptions in the provision of HIV services have been reported. It has been widely acknowledged that the interruption of HIV services could lead to an increase in HIV mortality and incidence during the pandemic, with estimates by the WHO and UNAIDS suggesting that COVID-19 related disruptions could lead to up to 293,000 new infections and up to 148,000 additional deaths to HIV globally through 2020.

Within the context of this new pandemic, it is more critical than ever to ensure that both people living with HIV and those most at-risk for acquiring HIV remain a priority and have access to uninterrupted HIV services. A lack of access to these services puts a person living with HIV at increased risk of treatment disruption, contracting co-infections and Advanced HIV disease.

HIV and related co-infections make up the largest segment of Unitaid’s $1.3 billion grant portfolio. Our grantees report that nearly all grants have been impacted by COVID-19 to varying degrees. These impacts have been mitigated with innovative tools and approaches to maintain service continuity and ensure that program’s impact is not compromised. The disruption to HIV programmes has been mitigated by three areas of innovation:

  1. Accelerated access to simplified tools and people-centred approaches
  2. Wider use of digital technologies
  3. Optimising outreach and community involvement.

“Our efforts over the last several months have been to ensure continuity of services for HIV, and to leverage as much as possible knowledge gained by the HIV programmes to address COVID-19 and its consequences over other public health areas”, said Unitaid Executive Director Philippe Duneton. “Innovations have been rapidly deployed to address these colliding pandemics, simultaneously achieving progress against both objectives and enabling better approaches to improve our efforts in the future. Our commitment towards all populations living with HIV – adults, adolescents and children – is paramount in the context of this double pandemic.”

Read more from October’s Hummingbird about our partners’ work in this area.

Making optimised health technologies and tools ready for scale-up in low and middle-income countries will bring us closer to achieving the new global targets for ending HIV as a public health threat.

Looking ahead, Unitaid will continue to work towards identification and introduction of innovative solutions to simplify and render more effective prevention, testing and treatment of HIV, co-infections and comorbidities, with a focus on people-centred approaches that place individuals living with HIV, or at high risk of infection, and their communities, at the centre of the HIV response.

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