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Snorre Westgaard

Chairman, Humana People to People

COVID-19 has shaken health responses around the world and shone a light on the importance of equipping individuals and communities with the knowledge to take control of their health. We must continue the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The response to COVID-19 reflects what communities have been doing in helping to tackle HIV and AIDS for years. Individuals around the world are being armed with the knowledge to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect others by first protecting themselves.   

Building capacity for 20 million people over 20 years 

Luckson Soda, Country Director for Zimbabwean NGO, DAPP Zimbabwe is a pioneer of the TCE program. He reflects on 20-years fighting AIDS, “my experience in epidemic control at the community level has taught me that effective health responses must put the affected people at the centre of the solution. It is true for HIV, TB and other communicable diseases, and it is true for COVID-19.” 

Global solidarity and shared responsibility 

COVID-19 has the possibility of setting back progress made in the fight against HIV by decades. It could reverse hard-earned gains if health systems are overwhelmed, treatment programs disrupted, and funding diverted. 

Kirsten Moeller-Jensen, Director of Namibian NGO, DAPP Namibia, acknowledges change is needed in light of the pandemic. She says, “we must leverage existing infrastructure, trust and relationships to rapidly meet the challenges presented by COVID-19.  

We need to continue listening to the voices of the communities most affected by HIV; we must hear the people at all levels of this response.

In Namibia, we are working with the Ministry of Health and CDC to roll out multi-month dispensing so people can reduce visits to collect ARV treatment, reducing their risk of contracting COVID-19 and stopping congestion at health facilities.”  

Refocussing efforts for HIV targets  

We have witnessed incredible strides to halt the spread of HIV, offering a future to those with the virus through advancements in treatment and care. However, the pace of progress does not currently match the global ambition and faced with COVID-19; we must prepare to miss the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets and refocus our efforts in the years to come.

Rikke Viholm, Country Director for Angolan NGO, ADPP Angola, says that whilst the impact of COVID-19 is being felt, “we cannot lose sight of the global commitment to achieve zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. We need to continue listening to the voices of the communities most affected by HIV; we must hear the people at all levels of this response.” 

What is required now to end the epidemic? 

Women and adolescent girls are disproportionately affected because of vulnerabilities created by unequal cultural, social and economic status.  

Kilford Zimondi, County Director of South African NGO, Humana People to People says “we must ask ourselves, what is required now to end the epidemic? The groups still left behind are the most vulnerable and hardest to reach. It is these groups that are in one way or another often not legally recognised or protected, further complicating our ability to effectively reach them with lifesaving information and care.” 

In these contexts, community mobilisation needs to remain central to fighting HIV and AIDS to address the continuing challenges in accessing testing and treatment, so often driven by fear, stigma and discrimination.  

Listen, understand, respond 

Whether related to HIV, TB, or COVID-19, we need to listen to, understand, and respond to the complex and individual needs of the people affected, putting people at the heart of the design and delivery of health services.

Now, more than ever, we are reminded of the power of individuals and community health response to overcome challenges. We (Humana People to People) always have and will continue to stand with people and our partners to protect those in need.  

Humana People to People is an international federation of 30 NGOs and social enterprises working with partners in 45 countries to support people and communities to overcome some of the world’s major humanitarian, social and environmental challenges. It pioneered the community led HIV and AIDS programme, Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) 20 years ago.  

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