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Director’s Message – March 2020

March 31, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, it is becoming clear that persons with underlying conditions, and also the elderly, are at higher risk of becoming severely ill. People Living with HIV (PLHIV) could prove more vulnerable to this new virus, given that their immune system is already compromised.

This is indeed a challenging time for us in the region. Our health systems are already faced with numerous challenges, such as the availability of resources and the lack of human resource capacity. However, almost all countries in the region have reported imported cases and some level of local transmission. Countries have put measures in place to prevent widespread transmission and contain the spread. We can only hope for the best.

“COVID-19 will undoubtedly change how we do things over the coming months.”

As we look towards the 90-90-90 Targets, as well as other national and regional targets, we must recognise that this pandemic could knock us off track and severely impede the realisation of these goals. COVID-19 will undoubtedly change how we do things over the coming months, and we must recognise the impact which this could have on PLHIV.

Continuation of HIV services

With measures such as social distancing and the closure and suspension of services, HIV prevention and care services can be disrupted. There can be disruption to the available testing and counselling services. How we offer these services must be revisited and should be considered, particularly within the context of social distancing. We must be able to find practical ways to ensure that persons are still tested and that they are still offered the required standard of care.  Persons may encounter reduced access to preventative care, and even more troubling, those persons who are already linked to care may experience a disruption in getting to their care facilities to obtain their medication and to access laboratory testing. Laboratories may also begin to prioritise COVID-19 testing, and this could lead to delayed HIV testing, which can impact the care of PLHIV. These can impede our move towards the 90-90-90 Targets.

Applying lessons learnt from the HIV response

Notwithstanding these uncertainties, the HIV and AIDS response has given us valuable lessons which we can apply to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We remember the early years of HIV and AIDS, when there was widespread fear about the virus, and also the move to social isolation for those who were infected and most at risk. Today, we are witnessing the same level of fear with COVID-19 and the issues surrounding isolation and social distancing. In their response to HIV, healthcare providers have had significant experience dealing with specific social issues, such as stigma and discrimination, and so successful strategies which have been used in the HIV response can be applied to diminish the fear, stigma and discrimination around COVID-19.

PANCAP pledges to continue to work with our partners to do everything within our capacity to raise our voices for the rights of PLHIV and to share information, guidance and good practices to protect each other.

I, therefore, ask that we all stay safe and that we take all the necessary measures to protect ourselves and those around us.