HIV/Aids, Covid-19: Africa’s place in global response is at the table

Tuesday December 01 2020

For Africa, the economic costs of the Covid-19 pandemic are high. PHOTO | AFP

By Aeneas Chuma

As Covid-19 swept across the globe, one thing became clear: a well-functioning, well-resourced, agile and resilient health system can mean the difference between life and death.

For Africa, the economic costs of the health pandemic were high. The prescription was often worse than the illness as Africa’s poor found themselves without work, food and even access to health care as economies were locked down across the continent in a bid to contain the virus.

The World Bank predicts that a pandemic-fuelled depression could lead to as much as 3.3 percent drop in growth this year — pushing the region into its first recession in 25 years.

This health pandemic has serious socio-economic consequences. What Covid-19 has taught us is that the state has a critical role to play. It was the state, not the private sector, to which citizens looked to and which rose to the occasion when the pandemic struck.

This was true in Africa as much as it was in Europe and other developed countries and calls for a rethinking of the importance of state capacities and capabilities in sectors of public significance.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has taken a strong lead in the response to the pandemic. Right from the start organisations leading the AIDS response were mobilised with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria allocating up to $1 billion to help countries fight Covid-19.


The Africa CDC requires more resources if it is to play an even bigger role.

Where will those resources come from? African countries need to rethink development and how they can build local capacity if the continent is to play its part in the global strategy.

UNAids has been clear that we will not defeat Covid-19 without Africa in the global response. Africa cannot be muted in the global conversations and its leadership must play a role not only in identifying the problems but also in seeking the solutions.

Covid-19 and Aids are colliding epidemics, and, in many countries in the eastern and southern African region, sexual and gender-based violence is a third and silent triplet.

We must have a global response for both HIV and Covid-19. While recent vaccine announcements have brought some hope, UNAids calls for vaccines and treatments which are available for all and is active in the global movement for a People’s Vaccine.

But this will not be an easy task. The Covax initiative coordinated by WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness needs our vigilance to ensure access for the world’s poor.

The decline in Aids-related deaths — a 39 percent drop from 2010 to 2019 —demonstrates what can be done. We have made important progress towards zero new infections, zero Aids-related deaths and zero discrimination.

But we are far from our goal. We must now double our efforts for both HIV and Covid-19.

Our goal for HIV is clear: We want people-centred and context specific integrated approaches that lead to at least 90 percent of people living with HIV or at heightened risk of HIV infection to be linked to services needed for their overall health and wellbeing. And we need a global Covid-19 strategy that works for everyone.

We cannot do the necessary without Africa at the table. And our experience of such phenomenon is that if Africa is not on the table, it will be on the menu— and that would be disastrous.

Aeneas Chapinga Chuma is currently the interim Director for the UNAids Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa based in Johannesburg, South Africa.