President of the International Aids Society (IAS), Adeeba Kamarulzaman, has warned that the world could be losing ground against HIV and that despite scientific breakthroughs, millions of lives have needlessly been lost to the virus.
Kamarulzaman was speaking ahead of the 24th International Aids Conference, known as Aids 2022, which is being hosted in Montreal, Canada, and virtually, from July 29 to August 2, 2022.
“In the face of duelling pandemics, we are coming together to celebrate the resilience of our community and incredible advances in HIV prevention, treatment and cure research,” Kamarulzaman, who is co-chairing Aids 2022, said.
She added: “But let’s be clear, we have lost ground over the past two years and the most vulnerable have been hit hardest. That is why we are bringing together the worlds of research, policy and activism at Aids 2022 to restore momentum in the global HIV response.”
Meanwhile, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) has also warned of faltering global response to the epidemic.
Citing the 2022 UNAids Global Aids update, titled ‘In Danger’, the UN agency’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima shared that about 1.5 million new HIV infections occurred in 2021 – over one million more than the global targets.
The report revealed that an adolescent girl or young woman acquires HIV every two minutes.
It also showed that the number of people on HIV treatment increased more slowly in 2021 than it has in over a decade.
Other indicators of faltering progress include the fact that only 52 percent of children living with HIV have access to life-saving medicine and that the gap in coverage between children and adults is increasing rather than narrowing.
“There were 650,000 Aids-related deaths last year, a life lost every minute despite effective HIV treatment and tools to prevent, detect and treat opportunistic infections.
“Leaders must not mistake the huge red warning light for a stop sign. What we need to do is not a mystery. We know it from what we’ve repeatedly seen succeed across different contexts: shared science, strong services and social solidarity,” Byanyima said.
On the other hand, reports indicate that through the reduction of HIV incidence and prevalence among adolescent girls and young women, women of childbearing age and adult men, an additional 3.5 million babies were born HIV-free between 2004 and 2021.
United States (US) Global Aids Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy Ambassador-at-Large John Nkengasong made the announcement at the conference.
At the conference, the Journal of the IAS also launched a special issue, titled ‘Getting to the heart of stigma across the HIV continuum of care’.
The special issue casts the spotlight on stigma and discrimination as barriers to accessing prevention methods, HIV testing uptake, treatment initiation and adherence to antiretroviral therapy.
Key populations such as members of the LGBTQ+ community are among those facing stigma in HIV interventions.
“Yet, the impacts of stigma and discrimination across the HIV care continuum are often overlooked,” reads a note announcing the launch of the special issue.
It adds: “Efforts to reduce new HIV acquisitions and improve HIV prevention and treatment programmes will remain suboptimal if HIV-related stigma is considered in isolation.”
In spite of the universal challenges the fight against HIV and Aids is facing, Malawi is said to have made significant progress towards controlling this longstanding epidemic.
Launched in January 2020, the Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessment, which was led by the Malawi Ministry of Health and the National Aids Commission, found that HIV prevalence among adults was 8.9 percent, indicating that approximately 946,000 adults are living with HIV in Malawi.
Based on the survey results, 88.3 percent of adults living with HIV were aware of their HIV-positive status. Among adults living with HIV who were aware of their status, 97.9 percent were on antiretroviral treatment and among adults on ART, 96.9 percent had suppressed viral loads.
These results indicate that Malawi has met the second and third UNAids 95-95-95 targets before the 2025 mark year.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje