COVID-19 increases inequalities in the HIV response

COVID-19 increases inequalities in the HIV response

The COVID crisis is having a devastating effect on the global response to HIV. The pandemic has exacerbated existing global inequalities, and more people living with HIV are being excluded from life-saving care. Half of all HIV programmes – from prevention to treatment – have been disrupted to a greater or lesser degree. In the past year, there were 22% fewer HIV tests done worldwide. In countries in Africa and Asia, the number of HIV tests went down by no less than 41%. These are millions of people with HIV who are at great risk of getting ill and dying of AIDS. The first to suffer are children with HIV (aged 0-14). There has been a dramatic decline in the number of children on life-saving treatment. For the first time in 20 years. In our World Aids Day report we will show how the COVID crisis has affected our work over the past year.

Inequalities between countries, between rich and poor, between young and old, as well as discrimination, are increasingly obstructing progress in the global HIV response. We are facing major setbacks in our work because of the COVID crisis
Mark Vermeulen, Aidsfonds executive director

The children left behind

There are 800,000 children with HIV worldwide who are not receiving the medicines they need to survive. Without treatment, half of these children will not reach the age of two. Because of the COVID pandemic, there has been much less prenatal care in many countries in Africa and Asia, resulting in far fewer consultations for children under the age of five. At least 1/3 of the babies born to mothers with HIV were not tested.

Fewer young people (aged 10-19) who are at risk of HIV have gone to get tested during the COVID pandemic. HIV prevention services available for young people decreased by 12% worldwide. The number of young people in Africa who are not aware of their positive HIV status is growing. In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, this is estimated to have increased by an average of 40%.

Contrary to trends among adults, the number of AIDS-related deaths among children and young people is not declining. This is even expected to increase in the coming years. The future is looking very bleak for the next generations in Africa and Asia.

The most vulnerable are the first to suffer when HIV programmes are disrupted – the children who were already so difficult to reach. We must do all we can to make sure the AIDS response is not seriously set back
Mark Vermeulen, Aidsfonds executive director

Global HIV response

Numbers of new HIV infections have decreased in some countries, with the Netherlands hoping to be close to reaching the end of the HIV epidemic. But even though life-saving HIV drugs have been available for two decades now, these are still not accessible for all the people living with HIV. Of the 38 million people living with HIV worldwide, 74% are now on treatment, so that they can continue to live healthy lives and can no longer pass on the virus. Over 10 million people are still not getting medicines. In 2020, there were 680,000 AIDS-related deaths that could have been prevented.

Meanwhile, every day there are at least 4,000 new HIV infections worldwide. Two thirds of these are found in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is poverty, taboos and traditions that stand in the way of good HIV healthcare. At the same time, increasing numbers of countries in the world are introducing repressive legislation that excludes people at risk of HIV from life-saving treatment. Gay men, sex workers, trans people and people who inject drugs are still disproportionately affected by HIV. 65% of the new HIV infections worldwide are among people in these key populations, as well as their sexual partners.

Our World Aids Day Report

Inequalities in the world are the greatest obstacle to ending a pandemic. That is precisely what the HIV response has shown us for many years now. Want to know more? uses cookies to offer the best website experience possible and to anonymously analyze website behaviour. More information.