South Africa’s efforts against HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have suffered greatly due to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s president said on Monday.

Writing in his weekly newsletter, Cyril Ramaphosa said nationwide lockdowns and growing pressure on medical facilities pose a challenge for patients with tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other illnesses.

“Many people found it difficult to collect their medicines and fewer people accessed other services, such as voluntary male medical circumcision,” Ramaphosa said, adding that people also missed out on HIV tests and antiretroviral treatment.

South Africa has the highest number of HIV patients in the world – 7.7 million in 2018, according to UNAIDS.

The country also had one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide, with only essential workers allowed to leave their homes until restrictions were relaxed three months ago.

It still has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Africa – over 790,000, including more than 21,500 deaths.

‘Lessons learned’

Despite the challenges, many lessons have been learned from the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they can help in South Africa’s fight against HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, Ramaphosa said.

The World Health Organization recently lauded South Africa’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus, including the testing of nearly 6 million people since the country’s first cases emerged eight months ago.

On World AIDS Day, being marked around the world on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said South Africa could end AIDS as a public health threat within the next decade.

“While we have reduced deaths and new infections, we still are far from reaching the goal we committed ourselves in 2016 of achieving a 75% reduction in HIV infections by 2020. If we succeed in doing so, we are likely to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030,” he wrote in the weekly newsletter published Monday.

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