On December 1, every year, we come together for World AIDS Day.
Across the Western Balkans and Turkey region, we unite to show support for people living with and affected by HIV and to remember those who lost their lives to HIV/AIDS.
We reflect on how far we have come in prevention and care, as well as raise awareness of the ongoing impact of HIV with the aim of reducing stigma and discrimination.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has illustrated how health is interlinked with inequality, human rights, gender equality and social protection.
With this in mind, the theme of World AIDS Day 2020 is "Global solidarity, shared responsibility".
COVID-19 has confirmed that, during a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Leaving people behind is not an option. Eliminating stigma and discrimination, putting people at the centre and establishing our responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19.
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the challenges faced by people living with HIV, including in accessing health care, and the crisis has widened the social and economic inequalities that increase the vulnerability of marginalised groups to HIV.
This summer, ERA conducted an assessment of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in accessing health services, including those relating to HIV. The assessment showed LGBTI+ people living with HIV/AIDS or requiring HIV education and prevention services faced many challenges in the region even before the pandemic, and the hard-won gains of the past 20 years are in danger of being reversed by the current crisis measures.
The paper recommended that:
- Health authorities should take immediate and specific measures to ensure access to testing, information, and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.
- State authorities across the region should work closely with CSOs to ensure that HIV/AIDS services are not interrupted, including testing, counseling, prevention efforts, harm reduction measures, and so on.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how many of the important services for the LGBTI+ community (especially, those relating to HIV/AIDS) are centralized in the capital cities and thus essentially inaccessible to communities in the rest of the country while travel is restricted. Efforts should be made for these services to be decentralized and accessible across the country.
A game-changer in HIV prevention is the use of PrEP. The antiretroviral medication is taken by HIV negative people at high risk of acquiring HIV to prevent infection. Studies have demonstrated that PrEP is extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission and ERA calls for its application across the Western Balkans and Turkey.
The leadership and engagement of communities, instrumental in the success of the AIDS response, has been key in responding to COVID-19. There are countless examples of how LGBTIQ activism and solidarity have been paramount in providing people affected by HIV with information, services, social protection and hope.
However, such solidarity cannot be the sole responsibility of communities. Governments, donors, faith leaders, civil society and each and every one of us need to contribute to making the world a healthier and fairer place.