Today we commemorate World Aids Day, a day set aside for partners to unite, renew their commitment and show support for people living with HIV and Aids, as well as remember those who have died from Aids-related illnesses.
Partners in the HIV sector are expected to renew their commitment under the national theme ‘Komesha HIV & Covid-19 #Tuwajibike’ to support the government’s efforts towards preventing the spread of HIV and Covid-19.
The national theme was derived from the 2020 World Aids Day Global theme: “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”. The theme underscores the significance of individuals, countries and the global community uniting in taking responsibility to address HIV and Aids amid a growing list of challenges derailing ongoing global efforts today, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year’s World Aids Day, the 32nd edition since its inception, will be commemorated under the unprecedented norm occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, which threatens to erode gains made against Aids over the years. A recent study by UNAIDS warned of a possible retrogression in sub-Saharan Africa caused by the pandemic.
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It noted that the global Aids response could be set back if Covid-19 disrupts HIV services. Like its peers in the region, Kenya is racing against time to attain the ambitious global 90:90:90 targets as it ushers in a defining decade, during which the global community is determined to end Aids as a public health threat by the year 2030. Kenya is a part of these global commitments.
According to Kenya HIV Estimates 2020, the country has attained the first ‘90’ and is inching closer to attaining the second and third ‘90’. The 90:90:90 global targets implies that by end of 2020, 90 per cent of people living with HIV should know their HIV status; of which 90 per cent should be on antiretroviral therapy (ART); and 90 per cent should achieve viral load suppression.
The 2020 World Aids Day commemoration is also the stage for the launch of the second Kenya Aids Strategic Framework (KASF) (2020/2021 - 2024/2025). This is a national strategy to guide the implementation of evidence-based priority interventions and create an enabling environment for scaling up high-impact prevention, treatment, care and support interventions in the country.
Developed through a consultative process, it builds on the achievements made in the implementation of KASF I, while providing guidance on priority interventions to be implemented to safeguard gains made in the Aids response during the unprecedented corona pandemic.
The current unique circumstances require stakeholders and partners to re-think strategies, re-imagine systems and devise new innovative ways to combat the two pandemics. Kenya’s three decade-long battle against the Aids epidemic has been on a positive trajectory, thus provides interesting lessons that can be replicated in the fight against Covid-19.
Leveraging on existing infrastructure and adoption of strategies used in the fight against HIV to complement efforts already in place against Covid-19 would be a strategic move now. Placing communities at the centre of the response to mobilise and drive anti-stigma campaigns has always been a game changer.
A multi-sectoral approach has also proven instrumental as different sector players join hands in synergising efforts while harnessing different strengths in changing the tide against Aids. Besides, strong political leadership has ensured the Aids response remains a top government agenda. Thus, progressively, we have witnessed a steady increase in investments, with primary healthcare key in the management of HIV.
However, as Covid-19 numbers surge, sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the global Aids burden, is reeling from a shrinking donor envelope and support. The US, by far the biggest funder of HIV programmes in Kenya, is the hardest hit by Covid-19, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures. Europe, another important partner in the response, is also struggling to cope with increasing Covid-19 numbers, a situation that may further complicate the funding matrix as the global economy shrinks.
The effects of the global economic downturn will be felt for years despite promising Covid-19 vaccine trials, which provide hope that maybe, just maybe, the pandemic will be under control soon.
It’s time to re-think domestic financing mechanisms to sustain the momentum towards ending HIV and Aids as a public health threat by the year 2030, and cushion the country against reliance on unpredictable donor support.
Mr Wasike is Communications Officer, National Aids Control Council