Executive Director, UNAIDS
Image: Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS (in blue jacket), meeting Juliana Atieno and children in the Kiambiu informal settlement in Nairobi in 2019
‘Global solidarity, shared responsibility’ is this year’s World AIDS Day theme. It could not be more poignant as we tackle the ongoing global pandemic.
COVID-19 has magnified and worsened the deep inequalities that run through our societies. It has also forced people to recognise that our global health and economy are intricately linked.
In order to protect the hard-fought gains made in health, poverty reduction and development over the past 20 years, and get the global economy moving again quickly, the world must come together in action.
Keeping our commitment to eradicating HIV
Before COVID-19 hit, we were not on track of defeating to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. There are 38 million people living with HIV, out of whom more than 12 million are still waiting for life-saving treatment.
In 2019, 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV, and 690,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses. This is shocking and unacceptable. Our fight is not over – yet it has just become a lot more difficult.
38 million people are living with HIV, out of whom more than 12 million are still waiting for life-saving treatment.
At UNAIDS, we are very concerned about the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19 and what this means for people living with HIV and for vulnerable populations.
Solidarity within communities
We are heartened by the outstanding display of solidarity by communities – in particular HIV communities – who have been front and centre of the COVID-19 response. Just as they have been, and continue to be, in the fight against HIV.
With health at the top of the political agenda, we have an opportunity for building a better future. To end COVID-19 and HIV we must place human rights and dignity of all people at the centre of our responses. That’s the lesson we learned from HIV.
As a first COVID-19 vaccine candidate has proven effective and a safe vaccine is expected to be available soon, there are serious threats to ensuring equitable access for all.
Learning from mistakes
We cannot repeat the mistakes we made in the early years of the HIV response when antiretroviral treatments (ARVs) were available. Prices were so high that only people in rich countries were getting ARVs and millions of people were dying in poor countries.
‘Global solidarity, shared responsibility’ must be the mantra also to defeat COVID-19. Only then will health stop being a privilege, and truly be a human right, for each and every one of us.