HEARD Researchers Intensify Technical Support and Research in Africa on Health and Human Rights Challenges Arising from COVID-19
Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to rise rapidly across the African continent. As at 22nd April, 2020, 15 394, COVID-19 cases had been confirmed with 716 deaths (case fatality ratio: 4,7%). While multilateral agencies and governments have had some time to prepare for the impact of the pandemic, this had not been sufficient. The pandemic has significantly impacted on ongoing health and human rights programming in Africa.
Research Director at the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at UKZN, Professor Kaymarlin Govender said that, within the realm of ongoing HIV and sexual and reproductive health research on the continent, HEARD is intensifying technical support to multi-lateral agencies in terms of assessing policy and programme challenges arising from COVID-19 and re-aligning new research to focus on COVID-19.
In recent months, Govender has been supporting RIATT-ESA (Regional Inter-Agency Task Team on Children and HIV, Eastern and Southern Africa) on children, and HIV/TB programming, where HEARD is undertaking an analysis of implementation challenges in HIV/TB services for children living with HIV, especially children with low CD4 counts and unsuppressed viral loads. The review will be used to realign current programming to improve access to health services for children and support UNAIDS Fast Track commitments to ending AIDS by 2030. Russell Armstrong, a senior scientist at HEARD, is providing support to the Global Fund Community Rights Division to address the implications for human rights programming in the context of COVID-19. Technical support is being provided to develop risk mitigation strategies to prevent state authorities from using the special powers granted under emergency public health measures to interfere with key population programming.
HEARD is also partnering with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) HIV secretariat on research to reduce stigma and improve the effectiveness of interventions to increase ART uptake among key populations in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. This newly funded multi-country study will also focus on the impact of COVID-19 on marginalised populations accessing HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services.
Govender noted that support to Africa to address the challenges arising from COVID-19 is crucial at this time. The pandemic has highlighted the extent to which countries are interconnected and the importance of behavioural science and policy analysis to strengthen regional and global health governance systems.