HIV / Aids, Covid-19 – Africa’s place in global response is on the table

As Covid-19 swept across the globe, one thing became clear: a well-functioning, well-available, agile and resilient health system could 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-driven depression could lead to as much as 3.3 percent of growth this year – which will push the region into its first recession in 25 years.

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.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (Africa CDC) has taken a strong lead in responding to the pandemic. Right from the start, organizations that led the AIDS response have been mobilized with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which has allocated up to $ 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 was clear that we would 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.

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.

We need a global response for 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 the WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, needs our vigilance to ensure the world’s poor.

The decline in AIDS-related deaths – a 39 percent 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 percent of people living with HIV or at increased risk for 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.

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