By Brian Onuonga. Each year, on 1st December, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. People around the world unite on this day to show their support for people living with HIV and to remember those who succumbed to AIDS-related illnesses. World AIDS Day 2020 theme is “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.

The world’s attention has been focussed on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease of 2019) and its effects on our lives. COVID-19 is a true manifestation that no one is safe until everyone is safe during a pandemic. In a new report by UNAIDS, it calls on countries to make greater investments in responding to the global pandemic and to adopt bold but achievable HIV targets. By doing so, the world will be back on track to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

According to WHO (World Health Organisation), the global HIV epidemic is not over and maybe accelerating during the COVID-19 pandemic, with adverse impact on communities and countries. In 2019, there were still 38 million people living with HIV infection worldwide. 1 in 5 people living with HIV was not aware of their infection while 1 in 3 people receiving HIV treatment-experienced disruption to the supply of HIV treatments, testing and prevention services.

HIV/AIDS in Kenya

In Kenya in 2018, 1.6 million were living with HIV. HIV incidence per 1000 uninfected among all people of all ages was 1.02. while HIV prevalence among adults was 4.7%. furthermore, 46,000 people were newly infected with HIV. 25,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness. There has been progressing in the number of AIDS-related deaths since 2010, with a 55% decrease, from 56000 deaths to 25000 deaths.

The 90-90-90 targets envisioned that, by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads. In terms of all people living with HIV, reaching the 90-90-90 targets means that 81% of all people living with HIV are on treatment and 73% of all people living with HIV are virally suppressed. In 2018 in Kenya, 89% of people living with HIV knew their status while only 68% of people living with HIV were on treatment.

HIV and Coronavirus

Current evidence suggests that HIV is less of a risk factor for severe COVID-19 than other health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes.  People living with HIV who have a compromised immune system should be extra cautious to prevent coronavirus infection. This is because your immune system may not be prepared to deal with the virus. Like in people not living with HIV, older people living with HIV and those with underlying health conditions should also be vigilant.

The advice for people living with HIV is mostly the same as everyone else;

  1. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 40 seconds
  2. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for situations where you do not have access to soap and water.
  3. Avoid touching your face because this is one of the ways the virus enters your body.
  4. Avoid people who are feeling unwell.
  5. Cover your nose and mouth with a clean tissue when sneezing or coughing.
  6. Maintain social distancing.

Tips on COVID-19 for People living with HIV

Additional tips for people living with HIV include;

  1. Try to stock-up your antiretroviral treatment, so that you have enough for at least 30 days, ideally 3 months.
  2. Ensure your vaccinations are up to date e.g. influenza and pneumonia vaccines.
  3. Make sure you know how to get in touch with your healthcare facility and that you have a plan in place if you feel unwell and need to stay at home.
  4. Make sure you are eating well, exercising as best as you can and looking after your mental health.
  5. Abstain from sex or stick to one sex partner to ensure that you maintain a low viral load.

In conclusion, World AIDS Day remains as relevant today as it’s always been, reminding people and governments that HIV has not gone away. Let us strive to remain to save from both COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS during these difficult moments.