The most important global gathering of the brightest minds fighting AIDS – scientists, doctors, activists and people living with the disease – is being held online this year, in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 25,000 participants are expected to log on this week for the 23rd International AIDS Conference, which will also explore how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting health services for HIV patients.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has estimated that in an “extreme” scenario, COVID-19 disruptions in HIV treatment could result in an additional 500,000 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than two-thirds of all people with HIV live.
Medical and financial resources have been diverted towards the fight against COVID-19, making it harder to manage the ongoing HIV epidemic, says Dr. Anton Pozniak, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).
“Nurses, doctors have had to be dealing with the coronavirus epidemic. Research has really been put on a freeze,” Pozniak told Euronews.
“A lot of people with HIV have self-isolated, been very careful about what they’re being exposed to,” he added.
However, there are ways to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on HIV patients, he said.
“What we’ve done in many countries is made sure that they don’t need to come to clinics as often. Many of them were coming every month,” Pozniak explained.
“Now we say come every three months; we’ve made sure they’ve had enough pills to take while they’ve been at home. And we’ve been giving them support where it’s possible by telemedicine, telephone and text messaging.”
UNAIDS has also insisted that there is still time to ensure that people get the HIV treatment services they need and that condoms remain easily accessible to prevent transmission.
Worldwide, nearly 38 million people live with HIV/AIDS. In recent years, scientists have made strides in developing vaccines and treatments. Still, despite curing a second patient of the disease in 2019, stakeholders say there’s a long way to go.
The 23rd International Aids Conference runs through to July 10.