The impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable groups: testimonials from human rights defenders

In the coming months, Human Dignity will be highlighting the important work of human rights defenders who promote and protect the rights of different vulnerable groups. 

Our first interview is with Ms. Totine Kolani, who defends the rights of people living with HIV in Togo. She gives us more details on how COVID-19 is impacting her work and the lives of on the most vulnerable. 






Ms Totine KOLANI 
Director of IFD - Initiative Féminine pour le Développement
Member of the Plateforme Régionale Lomé Commune des Organisations de Lutte contre les IST, le VIH/le Sida et de Promotion de la Santé au Togo.

How many people are living with HIV/AIDS in Togo? 

Togo HIV epidemic is a generalised-type epidemic with an average HIV prevalence of 2,5% at national level (EDS-T III 2013-2014) that decreased to 2,1% in 2017(Estimation, Spectrum, 2017). In Togo, the antiretroviral treatment is free of charge for everyone. According to the 2017 annual report of the National Strategic Plan for the Fight against AIDS, the number of people living with HIV (adults and children) on antiretroviral treatment at the end of 2017 was 59 752.

What was the situation of people living with HIV/AIDS before the COVID-19 pandemic? What were the main challenges and barriers they faced in accessing their economic, social and cultural rights and in particular the right to health?

It is true that before the pandemic the situation of people living with HIV was not easy, even though we recognize that efforts were made by the National Strategic Plan for the Fight against AIDS and the National Committee for the fight against AIDS as well as civil society organizations. We note, in particular, the problem of acute malnutrition of people living with HIV in the centres.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting people living with HIV/AIDS and their ESCR? Has the State taken any specific measures to protect people living with HIV and their ESCR during the pandemic? Were any measures taken to ensure availability and access to HIV services during the pandemic?

We already know that people living with HIV and other chronical diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia, diabetes, are the most vulnerable and exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic because of their compromised immune systems. In Togo, so far the people living with HIV continue to benefit from free ARV treatment in the care centres and no interruption has been reported since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The partners that support Togo, such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, especially when it comes to the provision of ARV, continue to do so. However, we remark the reluctance of patients to go to the hospital to take their medicine because they are afraid of getting infected with COVID-19. It is this attitude that the World Health Organization (WHO) opposes as it risks to exacerbate the situation of people living with HIV. In this regard, the National Strategic Plan for the Fight against AIDS issued a circular note allowing for a three-month dispensing of ARV (Ref : PF/OSC/ VIH/ Santé- Togo/110/2020).

So, people living with HIV in Togo have received their ARV treatments for the three months ahead. Furthermore, approximately 70% of all people living with HIV will benefit from the government social assistance programme that will support the most vulnerable during the crisis. The National Committee for the fight against AIDS has also given 5 million CFA (~7620 euros) to the network of civil society organizations representing people living with HIV.