WHO predicts a rise in Africa’s HIV deaths amid coronavirus pandemic

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that over 500,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa could die from AIDS and its related illness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO said unless African governments take steps to address the issue, a number of Africans will die between now and next year.

According to a modelling analysis done by the WHO and UNAids, the disruption of antiretroviral therapy for about six months could cause Africa to record high AIDS-related death rates as it did in 2008 when more than 950,000 deaths were observed in the continent.

“The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of Aids-related illnesses is like stepping back into history,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general said.

UNAids executive director Winnie Byanyima said the treatment could be interrupted, with HIV services closed or unable to supply antiretroviral therapy due to breakdown in the supply chain.

"It could even be because services simply become overwhelmed due to competing needs to support the Covid-19 response. There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the Aids response will be sacrificed to the fight against Covid-19, but the right to health means that no one disease should be fought at the expense of the other,” Ms Byanyima said.

The WHO director-general entreated governments to ensure that HIV positive patients adhere to treatment and that testing services won't be disrupted.

"It will be important for countries to prioritise shoring up supply chains and ensuring that people already on treatment are able to stay on treatment" Dr Tedros added.

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