Lessons learned from 40 years of fighting HIV/AIDS pandemic.

While the world has only had a year to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, several lessons from its fight with AIDS can certainly come in handy.

As the world wraps up celebrations for World AIDS Day, it seems fitting to reflect on lessons learned from four decades of fighting the disease that has led to almost 33 million deaths as the global community battles another that has killed 1.4 million within the space of less than a year. Notably, this year’s celebrations have highlighted the global community’s ability to effectively unite and collaborate towards a common cause. As a result of the joint efforts by organizations such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund, AIDS-related deaths have also dropped by 39% since 2010. With South Africa being the epicenter of the disease, it has been on the receiving end of much of the efforts.

At the turn of the millennium, the cost of a daily ARV dose in South Africa was around R250. Today, it only costs a few rands per day for much easier, yet effective regimens. As more knowledge became available about the disease, organizations such as the WHO, UNAIDS and the International AIDS Society helped ensure rapid spread of information and resources across the world, resulting in standardized education and training across the world, as more learnings emerged. Much also has to be said about the extensive activism that accompanied the AIDS pandemic – thus ensuring clinical trials included poorer countries and resources were also made available for these countries.

While the global community has only had less than a year to wrap its mind around Covid-19 and its seemingly ever-evolving profile, a similar response is needed if the world is to ensure a united and concerted effort to effectively combat the current pandemic. Clinical trials for any promising candidates would need to involve as much of the world population as possible, resources need to be made available to help capacitate low-income countries, and activism at various levels needs to also continue unabated to ensure access to promising therapies is not skewed in favour of rich nations to the detriment of the global south. To quote the WHO director, “No one is safe, until everyone is safe.”