By Chioma Obinna

 The World Health Organisation, WHO, has said that in Sub-Sahara Africa, three in five new HIV infections are among girls that lack access to education and are faced with victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Disclosing these in a message to mark the 2021 World AIDS Day with the theme: “End inequalities: End AIDS. End pandemic”, was WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

Moeti stated that in Sub-Saharan Africa, young women are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men.

Her words: “For adolescents aged 15 to 19 years, three in every five new infections are among girls who don’t have access to comprehensive sexuality education, who face sexual and gender-based violence and live with harmful gender norms.

“They also have less access to a school than their male peers.”

She said with  COVID-19, people living with HIV appeared to be at elevated risk for virus-related illness and death.

“Nearly 70 per cent live in the WHO African Region, where only 4.5 per cent of people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

 “As efforts to tackle COVID-19 continue gathering force, and the world prepares itself against future pandemics, we risk repeating many of the same mistakes that have kept us from ending AIDS.

“Addressing inequality is critical to ending both AIDS and COVID-19 and preventing future pandemics – potentially saving millions of lives, and safeguarding our society.

“We must ensure that everyone, everywhere, has equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care, including COVID-19 vaccinations and services.

“This World AIDS Day, I urge governments to prioritize investment in health funding for community-led, human rights-based, gender transformative responses.

“We must boost our essential health workforce, and secure equitable access to life-saving medicines and health technologies.

“Global solidarity and shared responsibility are critical components of the kind of rights-based approach we need if we are to end HIV/AIDS and COVID-19.

“As we remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS this year, we also acknowledge the terrible death toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken and continues to take.

“Going forward, we cannot afford to lose focus on the urgent need to end the inequities that drive AIDS and other epidemics around the world.

“It has been 40 years since the first HIV cases were reported. Yet, in Africa and globally, it remains a major public health concern,” she added.

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