United Nations agencies warned on Monday that more than half a million people in sub-Saharan Africa could die from AIDS-related illnesses between 2020 and 2021 as a result of health services that are disrupted by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated the number of additional deaths in the region, based on the assumption that supplies of antiretroviral HIV medicine may be interrupted for six months.
In 2018, an estimated 470,000 people died of the immune deficiency syndrome in countries south of the Sahara – 61 per cent of global AIDS deaths that year.
While some countries have taken steps to provide HIV medication despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, problems are mounting in other countries, according to UNAIDS.
Cameroon has experienced supply chain problems, Botswana ran out of stock until UNAIDS stepped in, while community health workers in Congo have been unable to do their work because of a lockdown.
“There are reports of people living with HIV not being able to or wanting to go to clinics because of the restrictions and fear of COVID-19,” UNAIDS spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott said.
In around 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, programmes to distribute condoms and to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to children are not operating as normal.
“There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19,” UNAIDS chief Winnie Byanyima said in a statement. “No one disease should be fought at the expense of the other,” she added.