The experience gained with the HIV epidemic can provide solutions for this new health emergency caused by the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). For this reason, we contribute 10 lessons learned during the almost 40 years of response to HIV from civil society perspective.

Trabajando en Positivo

10 Lessons learned in the HIV response to Covid19

Since the first cases of people living with HIV were diagnosed in 1981, it is estimated that 78 million people have acquired the virus and 39 million have died from AIDS or related diseases. According to UNAIDS, at the end of 2018, there were 37.9 million people living with HIV worldwide.

Currently, having HIV is not a death sentence if you have access to medicine. Antiretroviral treatments have ensured that people living with HIV have a life expectancy almost equal to that of the rest of the population. But getting to this point has not been an easy path; nor all the situations faced by people living with HIV, who still experience violations of their rights, have been solved. However, the HIV response has left important lessons that can be used to comprehensively address other epidemics and diseases.

For this reason, at Trabajando en Positivo they asked different people linked to the HIV civil society organizations in Spain to contribute their lessons learned during almost 40 years of community work. Their contributions have left these 10 lessons learned that have as basic principles to approach the pandemic from community participation and with a human rights approach that puts the care and dignity of people at the centre, paying much attention to the most vulnerable people because they are the most exposed to acquiring SARS-CoV-2 and bear the serious socio-economic consequences. Such is the case of the homeless or those who work in the black or grey market / informal economy, among others, who do not have their most basic needs such as food and housing covered.

In addition, the HIV organizations agree on the importance of investing not only in quality and universal health coverage, but also in funding scientific research to face global health challenges. It also needs to be addressed from a comprehensive approach without neglecting its psychological and social dimensions.

Another aspect they highlight is the importance of information and language used when reporting about pandemics, and they urge government institutions to eliminate war language in their statements or information about Covid19 because they promote discrimination and stigma. It is not waging a war but a health crisis, the warlike language has a negative impact and we are already seeing it in discriminatory attitudes, for example, towards health personnel or people who work essential public services.

We would like to share today the English translation of these lessons.

10 Lessons learned in the HIV response to Covid19

1.- Involve all affected parties in the response

Participation is a fundamental principle of human rights. All policies and actions must allow direct and meaningful participation in decision-making by communities and all stakeholders involved in responding to the pandemic.

2. Focus on Human Rights and gender perspective

It is necessary to generate global, coordinated, and participatory strategies, with a gender perspective and a rights-based approach, at the centre of which is the care and dignity of people.

3. Attention to the most vulnerable people

A health crisis situation affects the population unevenly. Access to health and comprehensive care must be guaranteed to the most vulnerable people and especially to all those living in social exclusion.

4. Eliminate any type of stigma or discrimination

Single out, criminalize or stigmatize certain people or groups does not support prevention or care in health crises, if not the contrary, it makes interventions impossible and favours the violation of rights.

5. Networks of community support and solidarity

Solidarity is not an optional or circumstantial subject, but an effective value in the face of an epidemic.

6. A quality public health system is essential

Investment is essential to achieve a quality public health system and to promote research to face new diseases and pandemics.

7. The importance of information and language

Words matter. The way in which governments, the scientific society and the media talk about an epidemic is essential. Correct and accessible information is required with language that does not stigmatize or instil fear.

8.  Approach to comprehensive health

Health goes beyond the mere absence of a disease. When it comes to being comprehensive, there must be a balance between physical, psychological, and social factors.

9. Resilience as a capacity to overcome

Resilience, the ability of a person to overcome traumatic circumstances, is essential to overcome a pandemic and this is also achieved collectively.

10. Social commitment and community vision

The human potential of social organizations and community groups that collaborate in situations of health crisis is essential to get where the administrations do not go.

This document has been produced with the contributions of the following persons and entities:

Belinda Hernández from Trabajando en Positivo, Carmen Martín from ACCAS, David Paricio from SIDA STUDI, Joaquim Roqueta from Gais Positius, Juan Ramón Barrios from Omsida, Julio Gómez from Trabajando en Positivo, Loly Fernández from CCASIPA, Mercè Meroño from Àmbit Prevenció, María Luisa García, Berrocal of Positive Creation, María Sáez de Sare Elkartea, Rubén Mora from NGO Stop AIDS.