World AIDS Day 2020

Africa children's Hands over water jugs

Germany’s contribution to ‘Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility’

In the midst of the global pandemic, World AIDS Day calls upon us to stand in solidarity with those affected by another life-threatening virus which last year infected a child every 100 seconds. Today, as experts warn of a drastic setback in global HIV programming, an increase in infections and in HIV-related stigma, Germany announces a new assistance package in solidarity with 38 million people worldwide living with HIV.

‘It all began as a mysterious disease, a myth, an uncontrollable plague pushing the world inside and keeping it confined,’ says Grace Ngulube, a Malawian health activist who was born with HIV. As a board member of the National Association for young people living with HIV in Malawi and a member of the Youth Council of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis, in recent months, she has travelled around her country talking to HIV-positive adolescent girls and young women about the difficulties they face amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Grace’s findings on the ground shocked her and she shared them, accompanied by expressive cartoons by Machira Mwangi, as part of the Global Fund’s World AIDS Day campaign 2020.

‘The measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19 at health centers contributed to restrict access to the already limited services for adolescent girls and young women,’ she notes, highlighting cases where people are unable to get medications, face crippling financial situations, social stigma and even unable to get life-saving face masks. For those already infected with HIV or suffering from full-blown AIDS these increased hardships can spell a death sentence.

Health worker blocking a girl’s access to a clinic because she has no mask

The German government recognises the urgency of the problem

Today, three quarters of the world’s HIV programmes have been interrupted due to COVID-19.  This is dangerous as even brief pauses in antiretroviral treatment could facilitate the development of resistance to HIV drugs, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of HIV-infected people. When it comes to mother-to-child transmission, total or partial restriction of HIV health services over a period of just six months can lead to a drastic increase in new infections in children. Experts are talking about potentially a decade of lost progress.

Germany is a core partner of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), the world’s biggest financier of prevention, treatment, and care programmes for these diseases. At present, Germany is the Fund’s fourth largest government contributor. It is part of the Global Fund Board, and also a member of the Strategy Committee. In these positions and together with other partners, it is playing a pivotal role in shaping Global Fund policies.

In view of the pandemic-related interruptions of life-saving treatments, Germany has just announced a new assistance package in order to counter the consequences of the two colliding pandemics HIV and COVID-19.  It is making a further 150 million EUR available to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Enabling trusted HIV-response partners to manage the corona crisis

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world,’ says Dr Gustaaf Wolvaardt, Managing Director at the Foundation for Professional Development, a private university in Pretoria, South Africa, set up with the aim of catalysing social change. As soon as the pandemic hit, tens of thousands of community health workers were deployed to go door to door with a list of symptoms to screen families. ‘We used that opportunity to drop fliers advising people to stay on their AIDS and Tuberculosis treatments – but numbers show there’s nonetheless definitely been a decline in compliance,’ he adds.

On behalf of BMZ, KfW Development Bank has been supporting the Foundation for the past seven years by funding community-based HIV prevention, counselling and testing programmes for reducing HIV in high incidence communities in South Africa. The Foundation also campaigns on tackling gender-based violence – instances of which have increased over the past year, said Dr Wovaardt.

March to protest violence against women & children n South Africa in 2019

To help its trusted partner manage the current crisis, KfW provided additional grants which enabled the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases to purchase PCR testing machines, says Dr Wolvaardt. ‘That was incredibly helpful because we could quickly purchase and deploy them.’

‘KfW also supported the purchasing and donation of personal protection equipment,’ he says, explaining that such equipment was vital particularly in rural eastern provinces, such as the Eastern Cape, where the equipment was initially sorely lacking, deterring people from seeking out health advice, diagnosis and treatment.

In the midst of this pandemic, World AIDS Day reminds us to resist stigma and exclusion

A young girl accesses support via a messaging app from Youth Health Connect360 in Malawi.

In Malawi, Grace has found that the false belief that people living with HIV automatically also have COVID-19 resulted in youngsters being pushed out of homes and onto the street. Her organisation Youth Health Connect360  with help from the Global Fund has teamed up with other youth groups to provide care, support and reliable information on HIV and COVID-19 to young people over messaging and social media platforms.

‘The knock-on impact of the pandemic could result in a vicious cycle that will fuel the HIV epidemic, stall progress toward gender equality and perpetuate inter-generational cycles of poverty,’ warns Grace. ‘As we celebrate World Aids Day and mark the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I urge governments and community leaders to put young women and girls at the center of all preparedness, response and recovery efforts.’

Inna Lazareva, November 2020

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