HIV progress at risk according to WHO

By Jacob Serebrin

MONTREAL – Growing inequality could reverse a decade of progress made in the fight against HIV, the director-general of the World Health Organization told an international AIDS conference in Montreal Monday.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who addressed the AIDS 2022 conference by video, said the “overlapping crises” of COVID-19, inflation and cuts to foreign aid by wealthy countries are accelerating inequality and disrupting health services.

“In almost every country, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and the global cost of living crisis is diving more people into poverty,” Tedros said. “Populism is continuing to influence domestic and global politics, with weakening support for those most in need, including migrants and refugees.”

While the number of HIV infections and deaths related to AIDS are much lower than they were a decade ago, progress could be easily reversed, he added.

Approximately 1.5 million people were infected with HIV last year and an estimated 650,000 deaths were linked to AIDS, according to the United Nations.

“Access to life-saving prevention tools, testing and treatment, whether for HIV, COVID-19 and now monkeypox, too often relies on chance: where you were born, the colour of your skin and how much you earn,” Tedros said.

He called on countries to tailor responses to the individual needs of communities affected by HIV, and he said donor nations must maintain funding for global health.

The international AIDS conference runs until Tuesday at Montreal’s downtown convention centre, Palais des congres de Montreal. More than 9,000 delegates from around the world were scheduled to attend in person, with another 2,000 registered to participate remotely.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is to make an announcement at the conference later in the day related to domestic HIV funding. AIDS conference organizers have criticized the Canadian government for denying visas to hundreds of delegates and for International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan’s decision to withdraw his participation on short notice.

A coalition of Canadian HIV and AIDS organizations have been calling on the federal government to increase funding from around $73 million a year to $100 million a year.