Since 1988, people around the world have gathered on December 1, or World AIDS Day, to bring greater awareness around HIV, remember those whose lives have been lost and affected, and assess progress made toward global epidemic control. This year, the unforeseen onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a massive burden on public health systems, including those responding to the HIV epidemic.
While continuing efforts in HIV prevention, care, and treatment, ICAP teams have risen to the challenge and concurrently led COVID-19 contact tracing, testing, surveillance, and health systems strengthening work across Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
This World AIDS Day, ICAP collaborated with governments and national partners to reflect upon this year’s theme – ‘Global Solidarity and Shared Responsibility’ – which urges leaders and communities to stand together to address critical issues that impact HIV, COVID-19 and general health outcomes such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection, and economic growth.
ICAP participated in virtual and in-person World AIDS Day events across 12 countries, including a special webinar on Tackling Two Pandemics: HIV and COVID-19. Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, MPA, ICAP’s Founder and Global Director, also reflected on how, in the past months, “ICAP has managed to help numerous resource-challenged countries build firewalls against the dual pandemics to protect the health of their populations” in her World AIDS Day message.
To raise awareness around HIV testing and retention in care, ICAP in Cameroon hosted several World AIDS Day activities using media campaigns, community sensitization, and COVID-19 safe HIV testing and referral sites.
“According to our program data, it is clear that work remains in improving behaviors around HIV patient care. This can be done through media and community sensitization with the support of local leaders,” said Eddy Beya, MD, technical director for ICAP in Cameroon. “At the facility level, staff should also be more focused on addressing stigma and discrimination people seeking HIV face. This year’s World AIDS Day events promoted discussion around these important issues and raised awareness about HIV testing and retention in care.”
In Myanmar, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania, ICAP teams worked closely with national AIDS councils and ministries of health to commemorate World AIDS Day while adhering to COVID-19 prevention measures.
In Myanmar, ICAP facilitated the National AIDS Programme’s (NAP) online Facebook event featuring a speech from the Union Minister of Health and Sports, a panel discussion among key populations representatives moderated by a popstar, and messaging around HIV prevention and care services.
Targeting the industrial workforce, a priority population highly impacted by HIV in Ethiopia, ICAP supported the Ministry of Health’s World AIDS Day event at Bole-Lemi Industrial Park in Addis Ababa alongside other events at industrial parks across the country. Each one conveyed information about HIV prevention, testing, and treatment adherence along with messaging on the importance of strengthening solidarity among the public, political leaders, and key stakeholders to stand in the fight against HIV amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICAP in Mozambique participated in 20 World AIDS Day district and provincial-level events across the nation which included speeches, dance, theater, and musical performances highlighting the theme of ‘Global Solidarity and Shared Responsibility.’ ICAP in Zambia helped organize the Ministry of Health’s national and provincial events, including a virtual meeting to commemorate World AIDS Day with the honorable Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, MbcHb. In Kenya, ICAP donated handwashing stations in Kisumu County in honor of the day.
A key partner to the Tanzania Ministry of Health and the Tanzania Commission for AIDS, ICAP also provided technical support to four national and regional World AIDS Day events in Tanzania. This included inputs to the development of HIV information, education, and communication (IEC) materials, exhibition tents, and youth-friendly health services provided for outdoor events. Between November 25 and December 1, ICAP organized community-based HIV services, including testing, antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation and refill, and pre-exposure prophylaxis and condom distribution among general and key populations. World AIDS Day activities officially culminated on December 1 with remarks from honorable Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa.
Right: The U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales; Deputy Minister of Health ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli; Minister of Health of Lesotho, Motlatsi Maqelepo; Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso; ICAP in Rwanda Country Director, Felix NdagijeAs a technical and implementing partner of the Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA) project, ICAP in Zimbabwe announced groundbreaking new data from the ZIMPHIA 2020 survey revealing that 86.8% of adults living with HIV were aware of their status; 97.0% of those aware of their status were on ART; and 90.3% of those on ART achieved viral load suppression. In Lesotho, Her Majesty Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso shared the preliminary findings of the LePHIA 2020 survey with official results to be released in early 2021. As part of its official World AIDS Day observation, the Government of Rwanda held a panel discussion to disseminate the RPHIA final report acknowledging the nation’s progress towards epidemic control.
On Dec 11, ICAP in Nigeria hosted a webinar on ‘Global Solidarity and Shared Responsibility as a Call to Action on HIV Epidemic Control and COVID-19 Response in Nigeria’ featuring presentations from Jessica Justman, MD, senior technical director for ICAP, and Chris Obanubi, MD, HIV care and treatment program manager, USAID.
“In terms of COVID-19 and the HIV response, the COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunately slowing the progress that has been made in the HIV epidemic. There have been large, indirect effects due to decreased access to testing, treatment, and viral load suppression monitoring,” said Justman. “ICAP’s response and adaptation to the HIV response and COVID-19 pandemic have consisted of working to find innovative ways to adapt – through multi-month dispensing of ART, community-based services, differentiated service delivery, ensuring adequate personal protective equipment, and online adaptations for training and monitoring to maintain positive HIV outcomes.”
As the world continues to confront two pandemics at once, ICAP has been focused on the critical understanding that these global threats are interconnected and that both require the ongoing commitment of global public health to bring them under control.