The United Nations is commemorating World AIDS Day, on Tuesday, with a call for “global solidarity and shared responsibility” to overcome not only COVID-19, but also AIDS – another global pandemic that is still with us nearly 40 years after it emerged.
In a message, Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world to not lose sight of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Despite significant successes, the AIDS emergency is not over. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) still infects 1.7 million people each year and kills some 690,000,” he said.
Mr. Guterres highlighted the impact of inequalities, leaving the vulnerable most affected, a fact evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID-19 has been a wake-up call to the world. Inequalities in health affect all of us. No one is safe unless we all are safe,” he added, stressing:
“Wealth should not determine whether people get the health care they need. We need a COVID-19 vaccine and HIV treatments and care that are affordable and available to everyone, everywhere.”
‘Health is a human right’
The UN chief reiterated that health must be a top investment priority to achieve universal health coverage. He called for an end stigma and discrimination, putting people at the centre and grounding AIDS and COVID-19 responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches.
“On this World AIDS Day let us recognize that, to overcome COVID-19 and end AIDS, the world must stand in solidarity and share responsibility,” said Mr. Guterres.
‘Strength within communities’
In a separate message, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), highlighted that people within communities working together “inspired by a shared responsibility to each other” helped achieve several victories against HIV.
That strength is needed “more than ever” in the fight against HIV and COVID-19, she added.
“In responding to COVID-19, the world cannot make the same mistakes it made in the fight against HIV, when millions in developing countries died waiting for treatment,” stressed Ms. Byanyima
Equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19 must be ensured, she continued, calling on companies to “openly share their technology and know-how” and to waive their intellectual property rights for vaccines to be produced at the scale and speed needed “to protect everyone” and get the global economy back on track.
Commemorated every year on 1 December, World AIDS Day brings together people from around the world to raise awareness, remember those who have passed on, and celebrate victories, such as increased access to treatment and prevention services.