Press Statement: Government must urgently upscale efforts on HIV, TB & COVID-19

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PPRETORIA – July 8, 2020 – The SANAC Civil Society Forum is calling on government to upscale efforts to ensure comprehensive integration of HIV, TB and STIs services into the COVID-19 response following the release of the UNAIDS report, ‘Seizing The Moment’ yesterday at the International AIDS Conference 2020, taking place virtually.

We are concerned that COVID-19 has threatened the gains against the Country’s efforts on HIV, TB and STI response.

The HIV and TB epidemic lingers as an enormous, unfinished hurdle. Numerous challenges still exist and now with the advent of COVID-19 – we are now in quintuplets of HIV and TB, Maternal and Infant mortality, non-communicable diseases, violence and now Covid-19 – adding pressure to the inequalities.

Gender inequalities, gender-based violence and the criminalization and marginalization of vulnerable groups continue to drive HIV, TB and STI infections in South Africa.

The lockdown has heightened the risk of violence towards women in all their diversities, children and LGBTI people, therefore increasing the risk of infection. Millions of girls are also out of school and need to get into a safe space to reduce their vulnerability.

Noting and welcoming the newly released UNAIDS report titled, ‘Seizing The Moment’, finds that marginalized groups who fear judgement, violence or arrest struggle to access sexual and reproductive health services – especially those related to contraception and HIV prevention. Furthermore, stigma against people living with HIV is still commonplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted the HIV and TB response and threatens further interruption.

“What we fear is that we could lose more people living with HIV because of COVID-19 disruptions to access for treatment,” said Mluleki Zanzi, representative of People Living With HIV.

And while progress has been made, Mabalane Mfundisi, Co-Convenor of SANAC CSF expresses concerns about resource strains.

“Resources are under strain as the country finds ways of dealing with COVID-19. This progress must not be rolled back because that will result in catastrophic results of monumental negative impact,” he added.

In 2016, UN member states endorsed the target of reducing both AIDS-related death and new HIV infections to fewer than 500,000 by 2020. The latest data, however, showed that the global response is coming up short, and the 2020 goal will be missed.

The report said that different regions are progressing unevenly. For example, the number of newly-infected people has reduced by 38 percent in Eastern and Southern Africa since 2010.

The world is far behind in preventing new HIV infections, the report finds. Some 1.7 million people were newly infected, reflecting more than three times the global target.

The HIV Modelling Consortium estimates that a six-month HIV treatment disruption could result in double the number of deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in the country between 2020 and 2021, setting us back in achieving our targets.

“The work to capacitate our community service organisations in the screening, testing and linkage to care for HIV must not be undermined in our COVID response. We need to act now to ensure our communities are adequately capacitated, protected and resourced to develop solutions that are fit-for-purpose and informed by local realities,” said Greer Schoeman, newly appointed SANAC CSF Coordinator.

As SANAC Civil Society Forum, we are engaging with different sectors in advocating for a people’s vaccine for COVID-19. We urge government and regulators to ensure that all vaccines, treatments and tests are patent-free, mass produced and distributed fairly and free for all.

Our National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB & STI’s makes it clear that no one must be left behind and in so doing, mapping COVID hotspots, linked to TB and HIV and coming up with tangible strategies to holistically address these.
“We are not starting from the beginning, society has fought pandemics before. A multi sectoral response will help fight the pandemic. What we need is mapping information to make risk based decisions. The COVID-19 outbreak is accelerating and we have clearly not reached the peak of the pandemic,” said Steve Letsike, Co-Chairperson of SANAC.

What the report highlights is that the world’s collective failure to achieve the 2020 HIV targets exposes systemic weakness and entrenched inequality. It also warns that the remarkable achievements made in the fight to end AIDS have not been shared equally within and between countries. And, moreover, decades of hard-won gains could be lost if we fail to act NOW!

__ENDS__

ABOUT SANAC Civil Society Forum
The South African National AIDS Council was established as a Multi-Sectoral structure by the Cabinet of the South African Government to advise Government on Policy Options for tackling the HIV and related epidemics. The role of the Civil Society Forum is to bring together diverse sectors of society representing various interests in order to strengthen the sector participation and share resources/information from provincial, district, local and up to ward level. The ultimate goal of the Civil Society Forum is to represent the views of all Civil Society Sectors in the Policy deliberations within the Aids Councils as well as to advocate for the policy proposals of civil society for consideration by government and the private sector.

For media enquiries and or interviews, please contact SANAC CSF Media Officer, Oliver Meth via email oliver@sanaccsf.org.za


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