Inequality is the real killer

Inequality is the real killer

A global vaccine apartheid is unfolding. While rich countries have already started to offer a third COVID-19 vaccination to their populations, millions in the poorest countries are still awaiting their first dose. This includes my own country, Uganda where the vaccine supplies are tiny. We are hurting. Burying our people. And yet one certainty underpins all of this: these deaths are fundamentally avoidable.

40 years after the discovery of the first AIDS cases, the world is repeating the same mistakes in its response to COVID-19. Inequalities continue to be the driving force of infections and deaths. Millions of lives were needlessly lost because life-saving HIV medicines remained out of reach for people in poverty and in the Global South. This injustice, this inequality has enabled AIDS to become one of the deadliest pandemics in modern times.

AIDS is not over. More than 35 million lives have been lost and an AIDS-death every minute is an emergency! In many countries, new HIV infections have declined and with access to medication, people living with HIV can live long, fulfilling lives. But within and between countries, a widening gap separates those who have prevention, treatment and care services and those who are excluded. This really upsets me.

Whether you live or die from AIDS is not just determined by where you were born or which country you live in. Inequality also affects women and girls, who continue to be at a much higher risk of HIV infection. Did you know that in sub-Saharan Africa they account for 63% of all new HIV infections?.

Also, children with HIV are paying the price of inequality. Especially when it comes to accessing life-saving treatment. In 2020 only half of all children living with HIV were on treatment, compared to 74% of all adults. This puts a knot in my stomach. And I didn’t even mention poverty and lack of schooling yet. Something as simple as lack of money for a bus ticket prevents pregnant women from accessing antenatal care including HIV screening that will help prevent transmission to their unborn baby. This is unacceptable.

Epidemics magnify inequalities and injustices. But they also bring out the best in us: ingenuity, resilience, and courage. Let’s focus on this together. We cannot end AIDS in one country or continent. We can only end AIDS everywhere. Whether we are remembered as the people who ended AIDS, or only as the people who could have ended AIDS, as failures or as victors, is up to us.

 

This article is written by Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS.

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