Measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on HIV, TB, and malaria should involve a combination of intensive community engagement, Mrs Cecelia Senoo Executive Director, Hope for Future Generations has said.
Mrs Senoo, who is also the Focal Person of the Global Fund Advocates Network- Africa (GFAN-Africa) in Ghana, a continent-wide social movement that demands health for all, said, as countries made efforts to emerge with the COVID-19 responses, there was also the need to maintain awareness of the importance of services to defeat the three diseases.
“Programmes must identify and address gender inequalities in their design and response.
“One approach is to meaningfully engage women, supporting primary healthcare services needed to reduce child and maternal mortality; and supporting caregivers, who are mostly women, caring for those who fall ill from COVID-19 or other causes.
Gender barriers to health must be removed, Mrs Senoo said.
Speaking to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on Sunday, Mrs Senoo, a gender, and public health advocate stated that as countries tackled COVID-19, health advocates, partners, and governments must ensure that the response to the pandemic should include strategies and lessons learned from the fight against HIV, TB, and malaria and also ensure that resources were allocated toward that.
She said also, human rights must be protected while stigma and discrimination must be addressed.
The available COVID-19 resources must also ensure equitable access to screening, testing, and treatment, she stated.
Also, when treatment and a vaccine was found, it should be available to everyone, and one for free, so that no one was left behind.
According to Mrs Senoo, COVID-19 continues to remind countries on the need to first secure their health to be able to deal with other facets of lives, adding that public health was a pre-requisite to social, economic, and political stability.
She emphasized that investing in population-based services for preventing, detecting, and responding to diseases was needed for development.
She argued that HIV, TB, and malaria services were largely disrupted during the COVID-19 lockdown as a modeling report by the Stop TB Partnership had indicated that as a result, global TB incidence and deaths in 2021 would increase to levels last seen in between 2013 and 2016 respectively – implying a setback of at least, five to eight years in the fight against TB, due to the pandemic.
She said a UNAIDS report had revealed that where there have been severe COVID-19 disruptions, the HIV response could be set back further, by 10 years or more.
Mrs Senoo, therefore, called on countries to focus on how best to accelerate the restoration of services, to bring the disease burden under control.
This calls for a solid global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to new COVID-19 technologies, she said.
“COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic.
The next pandemic must find us better prepared, ready with strong and resilient health systems with a strong focus on primary healthcare founded on strong community health systems.