World AIDS Day: December 1, and this year was different. The decades old global disease is still far from being contained, and this year as we struggle with Covid-19 pandemic, the global response towards HIV stands on a cliff edge. HIV pandemic and Covid-19 pandemic have proved one thing – lack of policy making wrecks a havoc and results in deaths. This is applicable to regulations regarding access to testing, distribution of new medical technologies and treatment options, public health and criminal law. Policy making is a disaster across the world and this World AIDS Day this is precariously evident.
Next few years and global actions therein are going to decide if we are going to successfully halt the HIV infection spread or there is going to be a resurgence as a result of lack of standard protocols along the social fault lines.
No nation has completely revised its laws and policies along the lines of science around HIV. Ongoing Covid-19 has given one hope that policies can be changed and governments can alter the response tactics in real time. Today the global response towards AIDS is all about inequalities. Today, Africa is recording 38% drop in new cases of HIV since 2010. In contrast, Europe and Central Asia is witnessing a 72% increase in HIV infections. So, why this strikingly big contrast?
Science is not the reason. The immense knowledge we have today of HIV is more than ever. The problem lies in striking difference between policies adopted by different countries. Experts confirm through evidence that policies of criminalizing sex work, drugs or even same-sex relationships do nothing at stopping HIV spread. What they actually do is stop infected people seek proper treatment and help. When laws and policies work around stopping this inequality, we can actually see the benefits reap.
The 2020 Global HIV Policy Report shows that just a few countries have changed their 80% of policies along the lines of global standards. Many countries still have laws that put same-sex relations, sex work, personal drug use or HIV exposure as criminal offense. Evidences clearly show that this drives people away from seeking HIV treatment services, thereby increasing chances of infection spread.
If all countries align their laws along the international policy standards, a lot can be achieved in fight against AIDS. For instance, African countries have done more policy change than most of the European and Asian nations. As a result, HIV cases rates are declining in Africa. UNAids had set a goal in 2016 of irradicating AIDS by 2030. This is clearly way far from reach. The new UNAids World AIDS Day report hence lists new set of goals. These include goal of over 90% of nations decriminalizing sex work and many other listed behaviors by 2025.
Coronavirus pandemic has taught a lot about importance of policies, power of community behaviors, and flexibility of these as per requirements. Social fault lines have a drastic impact on pandemic unfolding.