Covid-19 threatens to exacerbate inequalities experienced by many people living with HIV

Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem

on World Aids Day, 1 December 2020

On World AIDS Day, as we unite in support of people living with and affected by HIV, let us all remember those who lost their lives to AIDS, and those who mourn it.

As the world fights another virus, COVID-19, it must not forget HIV.

Although the two viruses differ in many ways, the similarities between them reflect the vulnerabilities that these viruses exploit, which are most easily transmitted to marginalized groups without access to services, information or protective equipment.

Once again, we have seen how those with the greatest risk of infection and disease have the least chance of finding the protection and care they need.

Major populations, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men, and their partners are responsible for more than half of all new HIV infections worldwide. But only a small fraction of all funding for HIV programs is targeted.

This is a shocking gap, and it is likely to magnify amid the pressure of the pandemic.

Evidence is growing that people with HIV are more at risk of catching and perishing COVID-19. Continued efforts to keep life-saving services open to key populations, including through virtual outreach, are brave, but not enough.

We must destroy the stigma, discrimination and marginalization that key populations face in the fight against HIV. They have the right to protect and take care of themselves on an equal footing with all.

In the Goals for Sustainable Development, the world has dedicated itself to universal health coverage. Let’s translate the global commitment into action and leave no one behind.

A virus can remind us that no one is safe until we are all. That we do not have time to wait. That now is the time to invest in equitable health services and uphold human rights.

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