Covid-19 ought not stop conversation on Aids
Today is World Aids Day 2020. While the day has been marked for about two decades now, this year, the occasion takes a totally different meaning and renewed significance.
The emergence of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic is threatening to overshadow the damage caused by another virus, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, HIV is a virus that attacks cells, that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases.
The virus is spread through contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, usually through unprotected sex or sharing of injection needles and even kissing.
Amid conspiracy theories that have circulated since HIV became a global epidemic, the mystery of the origins of the disease still persists.
For instance, there are those who cheekily say the virus was an American Invention for Discouraging Sex, thus the Aids acronym.
Anyway, health experts are trying to see how lessons learnt in the response to HIV and Aids can be applied in fighting Covid-19. But to get there, it is important to look at the similarities and differences between the two pandemics.
There is a lot of stigma facing those who get infected by both maladies. At the height of the HIV epidemic a decade ago, those infected were seen as social outcasts, especially because of the association of the disease with sexual indulgence. People even shunned their close family members diagnosed with HIV, for fear of infection through sharing of food, utensils and sanitary facilities.
Covid sufferers are increasingly suffering the same fate, with some members of the community also shunning them for fear of infection.
In countries like Kenya, health authorities have raised the red flag warning that stigma is hampering the war against the pandemic, as patients fear seeking treatment. Moreover, and just like in the case of the HIV contagion, few people are willing to go for testing for fear of being rejected.
But unlike HIV which killed millions of people before effective care and treatment therapies were discovered, Covid-19 has been tackled with utmost urgency.
Even more dumb-founding is the speed at which vaccines are being developed; a process that usually takes years. Suffice it to say that there is still no vaccine for HIV.
There is also a perception that unlike HIV which ravaged the developing world more, Covid is a disease mainly ravaging the developed world. Well, a profile of the regions that both diseases have a high prevalence and death rate seems to support this contention.
The means of prevention for each epidemic is different. For HIV, one simply has to ensure they do not engage in unprotected sex or get into direct contact with virus carrying body fluids, through broken skin or orifices with mucous membranes.
For Covid-19, one may not be too careful all time as the virus is both airborne and can also be picked from contaminated surfaces.
With Covid, it is easy to forget that HIV still continues to wreak havoc in many countries globally.
According to modelling conducted for UNAids and the World Health Organisation, the six-month disruption to the medical supply chain caused by Covid-19 could result in an additional 500,000 Aids-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone by the end of 2021.
It is now time for the whole world to come together and focus on this task by producing a vaccine to stop new infections, and a cure for those who are living with the disease. The effort being put in stopping Covid shows that it is possible.
— The writer comments on international affairs