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World Aids Day 2020: Gains against HIV should not be derailed by COVID-19

World Aids Day 2020: Gains against HIV should not be derailed by COVID-19

Let us not lose sight of HIV in the face of COVID-19. This was the World AIDS Day message from Professor Dave Clark, Group Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer:  Southern Africa at the Aurum Institute.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on health systems. HIV and TB services have been disrupted, with fewer people being diagnosed with HIV and TB and fewer people living with HIV starting treatment.

“We need to get back to focusing on TB and HIV as soon as possible… We need to rapidly re-constitute our full operations and expand our case findings back to where they were. A big emphasis will have to be on welcoming patients back to care along with campaigns, incentives and to make it easy for them to re-start,” said Clark.

COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has made it difficult and unsafe for people to collect their chronic medication at healthcare facilities. However, as part of Aurum’s innovative approach to health, the organisation established the home delivery project in South Africa, which ensured that hundreds of people received life-saving chronic medication while staying home.

This was in addition to existing innovations such as the chronic medication locker system, the Pelebox, for the convenient collection of medication in support the Department of Health’s Medicines Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD) programme.

Aurum has several different programmes from education, treatment and monitoring and evaluation. “We are very involved in mobilizing communities, getting the  HIV message across which prompts people to do something about their situation, to seek counselling and testing, to seek treatment if they are positive and to move forward in understanding how to prevent these diseases,” added Clark. This is far reaching with mobilization leading to massive testing drives and encouraging prevention methods such as medical male circumcision, of which Aurum has conducted 130 000 to date.

“Aurum is involved in getting patients onto treatment and to stay on treatment, at modern and rural clinics alike. We believe we have saved over 500 000 lives to date through our antiretroviral and TB treatment programmes,” said Clark.

Although there are challenges with monitoring and evaluation, with much of the information still being captured manually, Aurum has put in place an electronic system to help inform the decision making around epidemic control.

These programmes are underpinned by Aurum’s strong health research divisions which work on TB and HIV vaccine research, basic sciences, and implementation sciences.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, both the Implementation Research and the Clinical Research Divisions have had to switch tactics. Both Divisions are involved in several COVID-19 studies while continuing work on HIV and TB so that the gains against these diseases are not lost due to a shift in focus to COVID-19. 

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