World AIDS Day: the DREAM programme commitment in Africa in the time of Coronavirus #WorldAIDSDayAIDSDream
The Covid-19 pandemic in Africa may have devastating effects on a population already suffering from HIV, a virus with which it has been struggling for decades. The Coronavirus proves once again how closely the right to health is linked to reducing inequalities, promoting human rights, social protection and economic growth. The Coronavirus has impacted on people's lives everywhere, in Italy too. Yet in Africa it can have more serious consequences propagating like long waves in a stormy sea. We may think the sea is very far from Europe, indeed the African situation has become a global problem.
The Coronavirus has made us understand that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Global solidarity and shared responsibility are crucial. Incidentally, this is World AIDS Day2020 theme and also the basis of the DREAM programme of the Community of Sant'Egidio which is continuing its longtime engagement in Africa. DREAM has redoubled its efforts to tackle a double enemy: HIV and Covid-19.
DREAM is a model of global health of the Community of Sant'Egidio. It started countering AIDS in Africa in 2002. A program aimed at making possible and accessible not only antiretroviral therapy, but also the whole complex of measures and factors which could make it effective: health education, nutritional support, advanced diagnostics, staff training, fighting malaria, tuberculosis, opportunistic infections and especially malnutrition. To date, DREAM operates in 10 African countries, with 500,000 patients undergoing treatment, 120,000 children born HIV free to HIV positive mothers, 50 clinical centres, 28 biomolecular laboratories. In collaboration with the national health systems, it has expanded access to treatment, put new healthcare facilities into operation and trained thousands of African professionals.
Thanks to its trained staff and permanent facilities, DREAM was able to respond effectively to the Coronavirus emergence in Africa. In all countries where the Community of Sant'Egidio programme is active, patients were tested for Coronavirus in specially equipped centres. The DREAM bio-molecular laboratories have offered to the local Ministries of Health to process testing for COVID19. In particular in Mozambique and Malawi, they have become an important support to stem the pandemic. In Balaka, testing began on May 4 and to date there have been over 3,000 tests. In Blantyre, more than 10,000 people have been tested since May 22. Since June 16 there have been 13,000 tests in Beira.
The goal is to prevent the pandemic from exposing the already fragile condition of HIV-infected people. For this reason, the doctors at DREAM centres are working to prevent the new virus from nullifying the important results achieved so far. Yet this may not be enough. Today there are not sufficient resources to fight HIV/AIDS. And the arrival of Covid-19 only complicates the situation.
It is necessary that Western countries do not reduce official development assistance in Africa, as many are tempted to do. Improving the link between European and African health care, in therapy and research, is essential to counter future pandemics. In addition, we must prepare to distribute vaccine in Africa and ensure it is not left behind.
2020 will be remembered as the Coronavirus Year. However, the planet cannot forget HIV - an emergency within an emergency - no one should be left behind. It is a major challenge facing healthcare and social systems. But this is also an economic issue. On the other hand, investments made to counter AIDS, such as new infrastructures, training of health personnel, widespread distribution of medicines, have made Africa better prepared to respond to the new pandemic. And this is also the commitment of the DREAM programme, which is renewed every year on December 1, World AIDS Day. It is renewed as it can be replicated and also adapted to meet new social and health challenges.