WHA should put people and all health needs at the center of COVID-19 response

WHA should put people and all health needs at the center of COVID-19 response

Written by Marielle Hart - Head of Policy US at Aidsfonds

This year, the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) is taking place under unique circumstances: it will be the first ever online gathering of the Assembly, and almost exclusively focused on the response to COVID-19.

Stakes are high

The world’s eyes will be turned towards this meeting, as the stakes are very high. At this critical moment in the global response to the pandemic, Member States need to show courage to cooperate and show global solidarity.


Member States need to show courage to cooperate and show global solidarity


We hope that this courage will be strongly reflected in the COVID-19 WHA Resolution that will be adopted during the online meeting. While the negotiations around this resolution have been shrouded in mist, civil society advocates and activists around the world have expressed the need for the WHA to:

  1. Commit to ensuring equitable access to personal protective equipment, and safe and affordable medicines and vaccines to all
  2. Prioritise the continuation of essential health services, including HIV prevention, treatment and sexual and reproductive health services
  3. Respect all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the COVID-19 response and mitigate the socio-economic impact of the crisis, especially on the most vulnerable
  4. Recognize the critical  importance of gender-responsive approaches to the crisis


Increased vulnerability to HIV during COVID-19

At Aidsfonds we are particularly concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of the almost 20 million women and girls living with HIV. Most of them live in Southern and Eastern African countries where COVID-19-related lockdowns and other strict measures are in place. Many of these women and girls are already highly vulnerable. Due to stigma, discrimination, and exposure to gender-based violence fueled by gender inequalities their vulnerability to HIV will increase. They often lack the means to protect their own health and to access the HIV and sexual and reproductive health services they need, which is exacerbated by the current COVID-19 crisis.


Many women and girls are cut off from critical protection services and social networks


Girls and young women face increased violence and lack of ART

Our partners working with adolescent girls and young women living with HIV in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, tell us that due to lockdown and bans on using public transport,, they are not able to go to health centers to access antiretroviral treatment and essential sexual and reproductive health services, such as contraceptives and safe abortion. The quarantine restrictions imposed as a response to COVID-19 also prevent community outreach and peer support in relation to HIV prevention services, awareness-raising and psycho-social assistance with treatment adherence. In addition, many women and girls face increased risk of violence in their homes as the lockdown is cutting them off from critical protection services and their social networks.

Don’t steer resources away from HIV

In response to these developments, Aidsfonds is supporting partners in a number of countries with the shift towards the delivery of ART to women and girls living with HIV in safe spaces in their own localities so that they don’t have to travel to clinics, providing psycho-social support though phone conversations, and providing accurate information on both HIV, sexual health and COVID-19 through local social media and online tools.

The continuation of such essential health services and information-provision is critical, and they should be an integrated part of the global response to COVID-19. Unfortunately, evidence from past epidemics such as Ebola indicates that resources are often diverted away from other critical health priorities, such as HIV, TB, Malaria and sexual and reproductive health, and access to life-saving services is further reduced, especially for vulnerable groups. 

People with all their health needs at the center of the COVID-19 response

As Aidsfonds, we call on all Member States to make the right choices by putting people with all their health needs at the center of the COVID-19 response, especially the needs of the most vulnerable. Let’s protect their human rights, their dignity and their continued access to essential health services in addition to COVID-19 prevention and treatment. Member States should work together and not against each other in confronting this terrible pandemic and involve affected communities in the solution. That could make this WHA truly groundbreaking.


About the World Health Assembly

The decision-making body of the World Health Organisation or the WHO, meets annually in Geneva in May, when health ministers from the 194 Member States come together to discuss key global health policy priorities and adopt Resolutions. More information on the World Health Assembly can be found here: www.who.int/about/governance/world-health-assembly/seventy-third-world-health-assembly

About Marielle Hart

Marielle Hart, originally from the Netherlands, represents Aidsfonds in the U.S. as Head of Policy. Based in Washington D.C, she advocates for a strong HIV and global health response by the U.S. Government in Washington and the United Nations in New York. She strives to make HIV and the needs and rights of people living and affected by HIV a key priority at the global policy level, especially in the broader universal health coverage agenda and the sustainable development goals framework. Marielle also supports country partners with their advocacy on these critical global priorities.

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/marielle-hart-3309377/




Marielle Hart Marielle Hart

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