Opinion Paper

The HIV epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic: A double tragedy for sub-Saharan African women

Grant Murewanhema, Godfrey Musuka, Knowledge Denhere, Delarise Mulqueeny, Tafadzwa Dzinamarira
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 14, No 1 | a3397 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v14i1.3397 | © 2022 Grant Murewanhema, Godfrey Musuka, Knowledge Denhere, Delarise Mulqueeny, Tafadzwa Dzinamarira | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 December 2021 | Published: 26 August 2022

About the author(s)

Grant Murewanhema, Department of Primary Health Care Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
Godfrey Musuka, ICAP, Columbia University, Harare, Zimbabwe
Knowledge Denhere, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town,, South Africa
Delarise Mulqueeny, Department of Social Work, University of Zululand, Richards Bay, South Africa
Tafadzwa Dzinamarira, ICAP, Columbia University, Harare, Zimbabwe; and Department of Health Systems and Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

After four decades of the HIV epidemic, women from sub-Saharan Africa remain at a differentially high risk of acquisition. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) statistics show that the majority of HIV infections occur in this population and region. Evidence from previous humanitarian crises demonstrated adverse maternal consequences as a result of neglect for the provision of essential maternal, sexual and reproductive health services. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a similar effect, including an additional risk of HIV acquisition amongst women in sub-Saharan Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the risk of sub-Saharan Africa women to HIV infection because of a multitude of factors including child marriages, teenage pregnancies, dropping out of school, increase in incidence of sexual and gender-based violence and reduced access to preventive and treatment services for HIV and sexually transmitted infections. These include provision of care for rape and sexual and gender-based violence victims and provision of pre-exposure and postexposure prophylaxis for HIV and other STIs. Failure to urgently restore and maintain robust HIV prevention and treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk of reversing the gains made over the years in reducing the incidence and morbidity from HIV amongst the population of sub-Saharan Africa women. There is need for an urgent and robust discourse to formulate effective interventions for protecting women and girls living in sub-Saharan Africa from an aggravated risk of HIV infection during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other future humanitarian crises.



Keywords

HIV; COVID-19; women; sub-Saharan Africa; disease burden.

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