ISLAMABAD: As Covid-19 pushes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) response even further off track and the 2020 targets are missed, United Nations (UNAIDS) is urging countries to learn from the lessons of under-investing in health and to step up global action to end the deadly disease and other pandemics.

This year, the United Nations has selected “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility” as the theme for World AIDS Day being observed on Tuesday (today).

Five years after a global commitment to Fast-Track the HIV response and end AIDS by 2030, the world is off track.

Agreed milestones for 2020 have been missed. Nearly 700,000 deaths from AIDS-related causes and 1.7 million new HIV infections in 2019 are unacceptable when effective therapeutics and prevention options are affordable and readily available, World Aids Day report says.

The report says HIV and Covid-19 pandemics and their responses underscore the importance of increasing the resilience of societies and health systems, and the importance of addressing underlying inequalities.

Urges countries to step up action to end deadly disease

The speed with which the virus that causes Covid-19 has spread around the world has also been a stark reminder of the increased interconnectedness of communities and countries in the 21st century.

In its appeal, UNAIDS urges countries to adopt ambitious new targets to tackle HIV/AIDS to avoid hundreds of thousands of additional infections and deaths linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest progress report of the Global HIV Prevention Coalition shows that despite observing decline in new HIV infections among adults in several countries, overall progress in HIV prevention efforts remains variable and is too slow to reach the 2020 targets committed to at the 2016 United Nations high-level meeting on ending AIDS.

In 2016, United Nations Member States committed to reaching a worldwide HIV prevention target of fewer than 500,000 new HIV infections among adults by 2020, a 75pc reduction from 2010.

By the end of 2019, the reduction was just 23pc, with 1.7 million people becoming infected with HIV last year.

In Pakistan, there was a 74 per cent increase, but in 26 coalition countries new HIV infections declined, the report says.

The country progress report says currently, Pakistan has an estimated 183,705 people living with HIV in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and two autonomous states: Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan, and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

Of those estimated, 69pc are male and 21pc female; three per cent are children.

Pakistan modeling exercise conducted in April 2019 estimated to have the highest number of HIV in Punjab followed by Sindh. Together these two provinces accounted for 91pc of the total number of HIV.

Karachi has the highest number of HIV followed by Faisalabad and Lahore.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an additional challenge to maintaining progress in HIV prevention this year. Of particular concern are disruptions in HIV prevention services such as voluntary medical male circumcision, interrupted access to prevention commodities, including safe injection supplies, the effects of lockdowns on educational and social support services and the interplay between economic downturns and heightened HIV risk behaviours and vulnerability.

Meanwhile, UNICEF estimated that approximately once every minute and 40 seconds, a child or young person under the age of 20 was infected with HIV last year, calling on governments to “protect, sustain and accelerate” efforts to combat childhood HIV.

Prevention efforts and treatment for children remain some of the lowest amongst key affected populations, and in 2019, a little less than half of children worldwide did not have access to life-saving treatment, UNICEF said in a new report.

Nearly 320,000 children and adolescents were newly infected with HIV and 110,000 children died of AIDS last year.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2020

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