Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the U.N. yesterday that COVID-19 diverted resources from the fight against HIV so it’s going to be harder to reach the goal of ending the AIDS crisis by 2030.
Fauci is the chief medical advisor to the president and has been one of the top government figures leading the U.S.’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He also helped lead researchers during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s, one of his formative experiences as a medical researcher in a powerful government position.
He told the U.N. that HIV/AIDS research “has been successfully applied to the COVID-19 pandemic” and expressed hope that “important discoveries stimulated by COVID-19 may also help us make progress against HIV/AIDS.”
Fauci, though, noted that COVID-19 and HIV compete for resources, both in terms of government funds and scientists’ time. Moreover, COVID-19 has disrupted global supply chains, which can makes it harder to get HIV medications to people who need them. People who know their HIV status and whose HIV is being treated are far less likely to transmit the virus to others.
“To confront these challenges, we must intensify our collaborative research efforts and unclog supply chains through investment and regulatory action,” Fauci said. “We also must assure that people with HIV in all countries have early access to effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics while their supply of anti-HIV drugs also is maintained.”
COVID-19 showed that society can respond quickly to diseases when funds are invested “and perhaps most importantly, when governments and the private sector work together.” He said the goal now “is to apply these lessons to fight against HIV/AIDS.”
He said that both pandemics “reveal that as a global society, we still are struggling with long-standing inequities in health care access, and very real health communication challenges linked in some countries to waning trust in core institutions.”
UNAIDS, the agency that leads the U.N.’s efforts to address AIDS, issued a report this week that said that there were 1.5 million new HIV infections last year, which means that the infection rate is not falling fast enough to end the pandemic in ten years.
The report said that COVID-19 was responsible for drops in HIV testing and in the number of people starting HIV treatment globally last year.
“Progress on AIDS, which was already off track before COVID, is now under even greater strain as the COVID crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, disrupting schooling, disrupting violence prevention programs and much more,” UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima told the U.N. on Tuesday.
UNAIDS warned that the AIDS pandemic could kill 7.7 million people in the next ten years if nations don’t do more to fight the inequalities that block access to education, testing, and medication that many people with HIV experience.
The first report identified the disease that would become known as AIDS was published on June 5, 1981, by Dr. Michael Gottleib and other authors at UCLA, making this the 40th year of the AIDS pandemic.