As the world grapples with a new deadly global pandemic, the leadership, resources and infrastructure of the response to the HIV pandemic have been mobilized. Veterans of national HIV responses have emerged as COVID-19 response coordinators in dozens of countries. International HIV partnerships are helping to convene the world’s best epidemiologists, scientists and medical professionals to collect data, develop treatments and vaccines, and provide financing and supplies to the countries and communities that need them most.
The expertise, analytical capacity, and surveillance and monitoring systems developed through HIV funding are also bolstering COVID-19 responses. For instance, laboratory systems that have been vastly expanded and improved as a result of HIV and tuberculosis investments are being mobilized for COVID-19 testing.
Activists and community organizations that are central features of the HIV response are leading efforts to ensure that COVID responses are rights-based and gender-sensitive, and that they do not prejudice marginalized communities, such as LGBTI people. Communities are also stepping forward to lead local COVID-19 responses, challenging misinformation and stigmatization, delivering essential supplies to the vulnerable and organizing local support systems. Efforts to maintain health services during COVID-19 lockdowns have underscored the value of community-led services that are grounded in lived realities and responsive to the needs, priorities and rights of most-affected populations.
While the successes of the HIV response are vital contributions to the COVID-19 response, our collective failure to achieve the 2020 targets has exposed systemic weaknesses and entrenched inequalities, raising questions about what might have been. What if the UNAIDS Fast-Track Strategy had been fully implemented? What if global pandemic response capacities had been stronger?
We cannot re-write the past. But as more and more people refuse to accept the inequalities of that past, the international community can seize this moment, imagine a better future and re-energize efforts to achieve global health, sustainable development and the end of the AIDS epidemic.