Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 response should draw lessons from the interventions made by Government in the fight against HIV to avoid early errors and reduce the negative impact on security and public health, Commander Defence Forces General Phillip Valerio Sibanda has said.
He was speaking at the eighth Uniformed Forces Health Services virtual conference where he highlighted the need to maximise the reduction of HIV services for the country to achieve targets to reduce new infections and deaths.
The conference, which seeks to bring together key military health experts from the SADC region and beyond to share scientific knowledge and experiences, is running under the theme “HIV and Covid-19: Facing the Challenge.”
General Sibanda said Covid-19 had adversely affected essential health systems and was undermining programmes to address HIV and other global health priorities.
“As we continue our fight against Covid-19, we should remain focused on the United Nations goal of achieving an HIV free generation and an end to HIV transmission by 2030. Our responses must leverage the know-how, analytical capacity and strategic information systems developed through HIV interventions to fully optimize the agility of our Covid-19 responses to adapt to an evolving evidence base, improve performance over time and effectively identify and reach communities at risk of being left behind,” he said.
In 2020, about 37,6 million people were living with HIV globally and there were 690 000 deaths from Aids related illnesses.
“According to modelling exercises from the HIV Modelling Consortium in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS, a six-month 50 percent disruption in HIV treatment could lead to 300 000 extra aids-related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa over a one-year period, a region where 440 000 people died of Aids-related illnesses in 2019 bringing us back to the 2011 mortality levels.
Likewise, a six-month service disruption in programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV could cause new infections among children to increase by 40–80 percent in high-burden countries,” said Gen Sibanda.
He said agility and commitment would be required to prevent disruptions in HIV services associated with the Covid-19 crisis adding that the world urgently needed to substantially increase investments in the responses to both HIV and Covid-19.
Gen Sibanda said the pandemic had affected all facets of the security sector, including defence forces, which had been deployed to assist civilian authorities in fighting the pandemic in many countries.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a public health ‘war’, and we as security forces, have joined the war to contain the pandemic and prevent its further spread,” he said.