On 1 December every year, the world honours World AIDS Day. Every year, this day is used to show support for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and those who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health day. Government and health officials, non-governmental organizations, and individuals worldwide observe the day, often with education on AIDS prevention and control.
In 2020 our attention has been focussed on COVID-19 and the effect it has on lives and livelihoods. The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us many lessons on how pandemics affect society and how society affects pandemics. The message for the World AIDS Day campaign is: “Global solidarity, shared responsibility.”
COVID-19 shows how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection, and economic growth. It also confirms the statement, “No one is safe until everyone is safe.” Leaving anyone behind is not an option, and we need to address issues using human rights and gender-responsive responses to address the colliding pandemics.
Both pandemics are continually exposing the inequalities in our society. As with other health issues, it is hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest. We are seeing how the COVID-19 crisis is worsening the challenges faced by people living with HIV, women and girls, and key populations. The crisis has also widened the vulnerability of marginalised groups to HIV by increasing the social and economic inequalities that already exist. Those living with AIDS are also more prone to opportunistic infections and are thus at much greater risk.
This crisis has been a wake-up call. We have the opportunity to do better—and do it together. In many ways, the defeat of AIDS as a public health threat depends on how we respond to COVID-19. For example, the leadership and engagement of communities are instrumental in the AIDS response. These same factors are vital in responding to COVID-19. Solidarity of communities has been paramount in people affected by HIV with information, services, social protection, and hope. However, not only communities need to be involved in this. Government, donors, faith leaders, civil society, and every one of us need to contribute. This global solidarity and shared responsibility require us to view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a new way.
According to UNAIDS, it requires the world to come together to ensure that:
- Health is fully financed.
Governments must come together and find new ways to ensure that health care is fully funded. No one country can do it alone. Domestic and international funding for health must be increased.
- Health systems are strengthened.
Investments in the AIDS response have helped to strengthen health systems and have been supporting the COVID-19 response. However, more needs to be done to strengthen health systems further and protect health-care workers.
- Access is ensured.
Life-saving medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics must be considered as public goods. There must be global solidarity and shared responsibility to ensure that no individual, community, or country is left behind in accessing life-saving health commodities. 12.6 million people living with HIV still do not have access to HIV treatment, and 10,000 people die every day due to this.
- Human rights are respected.
A human rights approach applied everywhere will produce sustainable results for health. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in society and how key populations have been left behind in many parts of the world.
- The rights of women and girls and gender equality are at the centre.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected women’s livelihoods, which have been disproportionally affected by lockdown measures, and lockdowns have increased violence against women in household settings. Women must be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives. The world cannot afford rollbacks in decades of hard-won gains in gender equality.
This World AIDS Day let us demand global solidarity and shared responsibility. To participate in the movement, go here to access all the campaign materials. There are posters, videos, and even suggested Tweets (#WorldAIDSDay) to share.