Since 2013, global efforts have been made to gain control over the AIDS epidemic by 2020 through UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets.

The focus has been to have 90% of all people living with HIV know their status; and of those, 90% initiated on antiretroviral therapy (ART); and of those, 90% reaching viral suppression through ART adherence. Viral suppression means that virus in their blood is undetectable and they cannot transmit HIV sexually.

Much ground has been made towards achieving these goals. To date, 14 countries have reached the 90-90-90 targets. However, missed targets in other countries have allowed 3.5 million HIV infections and 820,000 AIDS-related deaths to occur since 2015.

One of the countries missing the mark is South Africa, which carries 20% of the global HIV burden.

By 2018, encouragingly, 90% of all people with HIV in South Africa knew their status. However, only 68% who knew their status were on ART; and of those, 87% were virally supressed. This equated to 61% of all people with HIV in South Africa initiated on sustained ART, and 53% of all people with HIV virally suppressed.

Then, by late 2019, COVID-19 emerged and has now swept the globe. This new pandemic has shifted the projected course of public health resources and existing HIV campaigns. The South African National AIDS Council worries that the progress of multi-year strategic plans has been upended. This is a shared concern for many countries with a high burden of HIV.

COVID-19 has put a strain on the country’s already stretched health system. The measures taken to curb the spread have made it hard for people to access routine health care and medication for chronic non-communicable disease as well as HIV. Strategies are needed to optimise health-related outcomes for all conditions, while still allowing the health care system to combat the novel pandemic.

Read the full article about the importance of treating HIV by Kathryn L Hopkins and Glenda Gray at Global Citizen.