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AIDS in the time of COVID-19

"It will be a challenge to keep working on AIDS when COVID-19 is presenting newer and greater health and economic issues."

Many years ago, AIDS was a dreaded illness, and AIDS patients were regarded with fear and disdain. Myths, not science, dictated people’s reaction to the disease, and a positive diagnosis was usually a death sentence – if the person was not, first, subject to stigma and discrimination.

Today, significant progress has been made with regard to the virus that causes the immune deficiency disease. While millions continue to be afflicted with, it is no longer a death sentence – with proper and consistent medication, patients can continue to lead productive lives. People have also learned much about the disease, its origins, its modes of transmission, its manners of treatment. It is something one can live with.

Still, now that countries of the world are reeling from the effects of COVID-19, HIV and AIDS remain a challenge--and stark reminder of the gaps and inequalities in our health care systems and societies in general.

The 2020 pandemic is still raging and exacting a heavy toll on the health and economies of nations worldwide. So even as great percentages of resources and focus have been trained on COVID-19, testing and treatment for AIDS patients have been compromised. These patients, already weakened by their ailment, also form part of a vulnerable group that could be easily harmed by exposure to the coronavirus. Those receiving treatment – which has to be consistent and sustained – may find problems with the delivery of their medicines or the funding for it altogether.

The COVID-19 pandemic is making it even more difficult for AIDS patients, as well as the people who care for them, to live a normal, productive life.

And now that the race is on to find a vaccine—and fast—for the coronavirus, may the world be reminded against the excesses and inadequacies present when there was still a mad rush to find a cure for AIDS.

“The world is in a dangerous place and the months ahead will not be easy,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in her message for World AIDS Day 2020, which is today, December 1. It might even be an understatement. It will not be easy, indeed, to maintain the same level of services and support for those already sick. It will not be easy to protect them from getting even sicker when so many other previously-healthy individuals are falling sick, themselves, from the newer virus.

It will be a challenge to keep working on AIDS when COVID-19 is presenting newer and greater health and economic issues.

As we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to finish testing and to be made widely available, may we all never forget the value of listening to science, rejecting disinformation, practicing empathy, making healthy lifestyle choices, boosting our healthcare system—and demanding much from our leaders in managing and containing a virus that we all have to live with. 

Topics: Editorial , AIDS , HIV , COVID-19 , UNAIDS , Winnie Byanyima , World AIDS Day 2020
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