SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening HIV-positive individuals in The Republic of Senegal. This includes those who work odd jobs in the country’s informal labor market, whether they be street vendors or non-essential workers. The global lockdown has cost workers in West Africa their primary source of income. This has also made it more difficult for them to get access to adequate food and appropriate medical treatment. The Senegal National AIDS Control Council (CNLS) has reported that HIV/AIDS-related deaths are doubling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking at data collected by publications such as the World Health Organization and UNAIDS shows how local and national organizations are mobilizing treatment for HIV-positive workers in Senegal during COVID-19.
Sticking with Treatment
The center of computed tomography angiography (CTA) at Fann hospital in the Dakar, Senegal is continuing to provide appointments, consultations and prescription refills for HIV-positive patients. According to the president of the National Network of Associations of People Living With HIV in Senegal (RNP+), patients who adhere to their antiretroviral treatment “are no more vulnerable” to the virus than the rest of the population.
According to medical professionals across the globe, HIV-positive individuals who are not diagnosed at a late stage of infection are at a lower risk of getting COVID-19 as long as they stay on their antiretroviral medication. However, if somebody has not been on medication or was diagnosed at a late stage of infection, then they are more likely to have a weakened immune system and low CD4 levels. This could make a person to be more susceptible to death from COVID-19.
HIV-Positive Workers in Senegal
UNAIDS reported that approximately 38,000 adults in Senegal were living with HIV/AIDS in 2019. Many of these people are working-class citizens who earn most of their income through non-essential wage labor. Only “2.6 million of the 5 million people” in the western and central African regions were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2019. That leaves around 2.4 million people more vulnerable to catching the virus.
A majority of the treatment in Senegal has been community-based with organizations like CNLS and RNP+. They provide food and hygiene kits to families in need through a partnership with other organizations like U.N. Women, which amplifies the voices of female patients and doubles down on efforts to fight the virus in women.
CNLS started a program with a budget of $1.7 billion to provide food and hygiene kits to vulnerable citizens. RNP+ also started its own program with a grant from UNAIDS in partnership with the government called One Family–One Kit. This program provides food for one million eligible households of struggling families in Senegal who are living with HIV amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, non-governmental organizations such as Advocacy with the National Alliance of Communities for Health and ENDA Santé are partnering with RNP+ to expedite resources to families in need. They have donated “more than 200 food and hygiene packages” to households who need them so far.
Neither HIV nor COVID-19 are going to go away anytime soon. HIV-Positive workers in Senegal are more vulnerable to death from COVID-19 if they cannot access antiretroviral treatments. Luckily, organizations are working to increase the accessibility of these treatments for those in need.
– Isabel Corp