Prince Harry on the ‘resilience’ of those living with HIV/AIDS
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Politicians, business leaders, health experts and celebrities have all added voices to the call to world leaders not to abandon the fight against HIV and Aids in a world battling the coronavirus pandemic. The news comes as world leaders prepare to descend on the UK for the G7 Summit in Cornwall, where global health is expected to take centre stage as well as the UK’s decision to slash its global aid budget in an attempt to claw back funds lost during the pandemic.
Two open letters have emerged in recent weeks, calling on leaders to ensure a new Aids pandemic isn’t allowed to take hold.
The first, published by the Elton John Aids Foundation, was addressed to Boris Johnson as the chair of this year’s summit.
It is signed by the likes of former Malawian President Joyce Banda, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS Stephen Doughty, eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, actor and founder of an Africa outreach programme Charlize Theron, and the executive director of Frontline Aids, Christine Stegling.
The letter addresses a “new Aids emergency” and calls on the Prime Minister to “protect and build on what we have achieved in the fight to end AIDS and use that in the struggle against COVID-19”.
The global target to eradicate Aids by 2030 has been progressing, but the letter points out that the COVID-19 crisis has majorly hampered HIV prevention services.
The pandemic response has “cut off millions of girls from school, and driven up poverty, gender-based violence and human rights violations”, it said.
These factors are shown to increase people’s risks of acquiring HIV or of developing Aids, as well as the steep increase in rates of adolescent pregnancy seen in recent months.
The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria has also warned that HIV testing falling by some 41 percent across 502 health facilities in Africa and Asia during the pandemic.
The letter warns: “At its peak, the AIDS pandemic slashed life expectancy in some countries by 20 years and killed off a generation of people at their most productive age, claiming 35 million lives, leaving millions of children orphaned and devastating national economies.
“Combined with the COVID-19 crisis, a resurgent AIDS emergency could be catastrophic.”
The letter urges leaders to resource the commitment to the 2030 date, using the structures already in place from Covid to ensure an HIV crisis isn’t allowed to slip through the cracks.
The letter also says the signatories are “deeply unsettled” by the recent UK aid cuts, echoing widespread calls from the charity sector to reverse the move.
The UK has slashed funding to organisations working in this field, including UNAids, UnitAid and UNFPA, by about 80 percent as part of its £4.5bn cut to the international aid budget.
Bilateral programmes have also been hit, leading to the closure of vital services, and the global health research budget slashed in half.
Christine Stegling, director of Frontline Aids and one of the signatories, spoke to Express.co.uk.
She said: “While COVID-19 is dominating the news agenda, the world has silently entered a new AIDS emergency, with widespread disruption to HIV prevention, testing and treatment being worryingly recorded across the globe.”
She went on: “It is not the time to fight one pandemic at the expense of another.
“Those who are unable to access HIV treatment are highly vulnerable to complications both from COVID-19 and from AIDS, so failure to sustain critical HIV services would be a disaster, potentially ending in the avoidable deaths of many people.”
She added it was time to “work together to help prevent this new AIDS emergency, before it’s too late.”
A second open letter on the Aids crisis is signed by a group of MPs – including Conservative health minister Lord Fowler, international development committee chair Sarah Champion and former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn – along with business leaders, experts and people living with HIV.
The letter, also addressed to Boris Johnson, addresses the “alarming” cuts to aid.
It says the cuts, alongside Covid, risk “setting the stage for a resurgence” of the Aids pandemic around the world.
The letter reads: “These cuts couldn’t have come at a worse time for the HIV pandemic.
“Aids-related illnesses remain the number one killer of women of reproductive age, and 1.5 million people acquired HIV in 2020.”
That figure is triple the target number of infections, the UN said last week, as it admitted the world has missed all of its targets for tackling a pandemic that began 40 years ago.
The letter expresses concern that the UK “could set a precedent for other governments to cut funding for the HIV response as well”, and call for new funding to ensure the UK remains a leading donor to efforts to tackle HIV/Aids, as well as for the ultimate reinstatement of UK aid spending commitments.
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