It feels like a year ago now. But it was on 19 March, when I left for my hometown of Nairobi from Geneva, where I live and work. I landed in Nairobi on the morning of 20 March, a week after Kenya had confirmed its first case of the coronavirus and a few days before Nairobi’s airports were closed for regular international passengers.
Sex workers in Africa are among the communities suffering the most due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as lockdowns and police crackdowns leave millions without income. Sex workers have always been vulnerable to violence and infectious diseases such as HIV, but COVID-19 has increased those risks.
Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening access to lifesaving medicines for people living with HIV. Lockdowns and restrictions on public transportation make it harder for many to get treatment. Many people living with HIV can’t afford to pay for a taxi to the health center. That extra hurdle can result in more deaths.
At the International AIDS conference in 2000 I joined an activist community that barreled through the streets of Durban demanding universal access to HIV treatment. At the time, the treatment was only accessible to the rich – it cost more than US$10,000 to treat one person per year.
The COVID-19 lockdowns are making it difficult for vulnerable people to access critical health services, particularly in remote communities. In northern Uganda, the lockdown and restrictions on transport are a barrier to accessing health services for mothers and pregnant women living with HIV, putting them and their babies at risk.