Johannesburg – While COVID-19 has swept around the world, one thing has become clear: a well-functioning, well-available, agile and resilient health system can mean the difference between life and death.
For Africa, the economic cost of the health pandemic was high. The prescription was often worse than the disease, as poor people in Africa found themselves without jobs, food and even access to health care, as economies across the continent were locked up in an attempt to contain the virus.
The World Bank predicts that a depression-induced depression could lead to as much as 3.3 percent growth this year, pushing the region to its first recession in 25 years.
We will not defeat COVID-19 without Africa in the global response. Africa cannot be subdued in the global talks, and its leadership must not only play a role in identifying problems, but also in seeking solutions.
This health pandemic has serious socio-economic consequences. What COVID-19 has taught us is that the state must play a critical role. It was the state, not the private sector, that citizens were looking at and that came to the fore when the pandemic struck.
This was equally true in Africa and in other developed countries in Africa and it calls for a rethinking of the importance of state capacity and capabilities in sectors of public interest.
Instead of seeing the pandemic as the end, we can see this crisis as an opportunity for a joint effort to make our own way to the world table for health.
We must ask ourselves what global solidarity and shared responsibility for the continent looks like there. We know that Africa has many lessons to share.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has taken a strong lead in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. From the outset, AIDS-led organizations have been mobilized with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which has allocated up to US $ 1 billion to help countries fight COVID-19.
Africa CDC needs more resources to play a bigger role.
Where will those sources come from? African countries need to rethink development and how they can build local capacity if the continent is to play its part in the global strategy.
UNAIDS is clear that we will not defeat COVID-19 without Africa in the global response. Africa cannot be subdued in the global talks, and its leadership must not only play a role in identifying problems, but also in seeking solutions.
To this end, UNAIDS was one of the first to join the African CDC’s newly formed Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT) as part of the African Joint Continental Strategy for the COVID-19 Response.
The partnership aims to reduce the gap in testing by rapidly increasing the efforts of African countries to test and detect – an important step in reducing infections and deaths. PACT is also calling for the rapid establishment of an African CDC-led system for the acquisition of diagnostic pools and other COVID-19-related response commodities.
COVID-19 does not distinguish who is targeting it, but economic and social determinants of poor health are a strong predictor of who may die from the virus. We cannot allow the poor in Africa to bear the greatest risk without support.
COVID-19 and AIDS clash epidemics, and in many countries in eastern and southern Africa, sexual and gender-based violence is a third and silent triplets.
The UNAIDS ‘World Aids Day Report, which prevents pandemics by putting people at the center’, noted that the global commitment to accelerate the HIV response and end AIDS by 2030 is now appropriate.
Indeed, agreed milestones for 2020 have been missed. But Africa can take comfort in the fact that the architecture, human resources and lessons learned from the AIDS response are invaluable.
We now know that the evidence points to people-centered 2025 targets around comprehensive HIV services, context-specific integration of services and the removal of social and legal barriers to a possible environment for HIV services. Together, these three elements form a powerful whole with people living with HIV and people at greatest risk for HIV infection.
Shrinking budgets means less investment in the HIV response. Our report clearly shows that the collective failure to invest adequately in comprehensive, rights-based, person-centered HIV responses is costly: from 2015 to 2020, there were 3.5 million more HIV infections and 820,000 more AIDS-related deaths than in the world. was on course to reach the 2020 targets.
We must have a global response to both HIV and COVID-19. While recent vaccine announcements have raised hopes, UNAIDS is calling for vaccinations and treatments that are available to all and that are active in the global movement for a folk vaccination.
But it will not be an easy task. The COVAX initiative, coordinated by WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, calls for our vigilance in securing the world’s poor.
The decline in AIDS-related deaths – a 39% drop from 2010 to 2019 – shows what can be done. We have made significant progress towards zero new infections, no AIDS-related deaths and no discrimination.
But we are far from our goal.
We must now redouble our efforts for both HIV and COVID-19.
Our goal for HIV is clear: we want people-centered and context-specific integrated approaches that result in at least 90% of people living with HIV or at increased risk of HIV infection being linked to services that are needed is for their general health and well-being. And we need a global COVID-19 strategy that works for everyone.
We cannot do what is necessary without Africa at the table. And our experience of such a phenomenon is that if Africa is not on the table, it will appear on the menu – and it will be disastrous.
Aeneas Chapinga Chuma is currently the interim director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for East and Southern Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa.