The World Health Organisation has warned of a possible 500000 AIDS-related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2020–2021.
According to the world health body, its prediction will become a reality if efforts are not made to mitigate and overcome interruptions in health services and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organisation says a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy could effectively set the clock on AIDS-related deaths back to 2008 when more than 950 000 deaths were recorded in Africa.
Aside, HIV/AIDS, WHO notes that tuberculosis will also record a high number of deaths within the six months period.
A joint statement by WHO and UNAIDS sighted by ABC News said a research conducted makes it clear that ”Communities and partners need to take action now as the impact of a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy could effectively set the clock on AIDS-related deaths back to 2008, when more than 950 000 AIDS-related deaths were observed in the region,”
”And people would continue to die from the disruption in large numbers for at least another five years, with an annual average excess in deaths of 40% over the next half a decade. In addition, HIV service disruptions could also have some impact on HIV incidence in the next year.”
Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history.”
“We must read this as a wake-up call to countries to identify ways to sustain all vital health services. For HIV, some countries are already taking important steps, for example ensuring that people can collect bulk packs of treatment, and other essential commodities, including self-testing kits, from drop-off points, which relieves pressure on health services and the health workforce. We must also ensure that global supplies of tests and treatments continue to flow to the countries that need them,” Dr Tedros added.
For her part, Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, said “The COVID-19 pandemic must not be an excuse to divert investment from HIV,” said. “There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19, but the right to health means that no one disease should be fought at the expense of the other.”
The research which brought together five teams of modellers using different mathematical models to analyse the effects of various possible disruptions to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services caused by COVID-19, highlights the need for urgent efforts to ensure the continuity of HIV prevention and treatment services in order to avert excess HIV-related deaths as well as prevent increases in HIV incidence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each model looked at the potential impact of treatment disruptions of three months or six months on AIDS mortality and HIV incidence in sub-Saharan Africa. In the six-month disruption scenario, estimates of excess AIDS-related deaths in one year ranged from 471 000 to 673 000, making it inevitable that the world will miss the global 2020 target of fewer than 500 000 AIDS-related deaths worldwide.
It reveals that shorter disruptions of three months would see a reduced but still significant impact on HIV deaths. More sporadic interruptions of antiretroviral therapy supply would lead to sporadic adherence to treatment, leading to the spread of HIV drug resistance, with long-term consequences for future treatment success in the region.
It also notes that disrupted services could also reverse gains made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Since 2010, new HIV infections among children in sub-Saharan Africa have declined by 43%, from 250 000 in 2010 to 140 000 in 2018, owing to the high coverage of HIV services for mothers and their children in the region. Curtailment of these services by COVID-19 for six months could see new child HIV infections rise drastically, by as much as 37% in Mozambique, 78% in Malawi, 78% in Zimbabwe and 104% in Uganda.
The research further lists reduced quality clinical care owing to health facilities becoming overstretched and a suspension of viral load testing, reduced adherence counselling and drug regimen switches as significant effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the AIDS response in sub-Saharan Africa that could lead to additional mortality.