International Cooperation in Responding to AIDS and COVID-19 Pandemics – The Biggest Threats of 21st Century

by Elena Žilić Džeba

One of the greatest threats to humanity today are epidemics of infectious diseases, which could result in catastrophic permanent changes in today’s way of life as well as in the future.

Throughout the history of civilizations, no state has been immune to the consequences of epidemic outbreaks. Consequently, it developed the awareness and need for international cooperation in the fight against infectious diseases. From the very beginning, HIV/AIDS represents a great scientific, as well as a social challenge facing the modern world.

One of the largest 21st-century pandemics is the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is continuing after more than 40 years, as well as the COVID 19 pandemic which is currently one of the biggest health crises. HIV/AIDS developed from an unknown disease in the 1980s into a deadly pandemic that caused many consequences from numerous human lives to the development of stereotypes, panic, and prejudices. HIV is a virus that affects and causes severe damage to the immune system, meaning that it cannot defend a person against many bacteria, viruses, and other diseases. AIDS is the last stage of HIV that is very often lethal and although a major step forward has been made with the development of antiviral therapy, the end of the AIDS pandemic is not in sight.

On the other hand, COVID 19 is currently the biggest threat since it represents a pandemic that has led to many changes and consequences, from a change in social structure and major economic consequences to the spread of prejudice and fake news, which the world is still dealing with. Many other consequences will be analyzable and understood fully only at the end of the epidemic. We live in an age of one of the world’s largest epidemics that has presented many challenges and flaws of current cooperation in terms of infectious diseases, but also, in general, the flaws of health systems.

International cooperation and communication are the keys to a global response to epidemics of infectious diseases since it is almost impossible to make any progress or development without them. The specificity of the current global health situation may best show how crucial and necessary cooperation is, but the same specific situation applies to all past and future epidemics that the world is yet to face. International cooperation and international relations are of great importance in forming relations between countries, but equally important in addressing global health threats and risks. Global international cooperation is needed, based on a multi-sectoral approach and exchange so that a particular epidemic of an infectious disease can be understood and eventually curbed and eradicated. The availability of information, distribution of medicines, and scientific cooperation together with addressing stereotypes and prejudices (for example, homosexual populations concerning AIDS and Asia and China concerning COVID 19 pandemic) are key elements in stopping epidemics, but also in forming new knowledge and ways of cooperation for all future epidemics. The best indicator is the AIDS case since a truly special and specific type of cooperation has developed – none of the infectious diseases prior to AIDS have led to the establishment of a special branch of an international organization; in this case the establishment of UNAIDS which today represents the largest platform of information, data, and new actions in the hope of curbing AIDS.

UNAIDS initiated several actions and projects designed with the main aim of decreasing the number of HIV-positive individuals and distributing antiretroviral treatment in reducing the number of AIDS deaths. The Global AIDS Strategy beyond 2021 is one of the most famous examples of such action, along with Ending AIDS: Progress Towards the “90 90 90 90“ targets – with the main goal to achieve 90% of HIV-positive people know their status (key points being testing, availability of tests and therapy and privacy), 90% of positive people will have access to and receive antiretroviral therapy and 90% who have received the antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is a major project that promotes antiretroviral therapy but also emphasizes proper education and dissemination of available information in the fight against prejudice and stereotypes. The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide useful information on all infectious diseases while encouraging cooperation and progress – availability of vaccines, calling for compliance with measures and proper education of diseases, cooperation between organizations and countries, and health global cooperation.

The analysis and understanding of the paradigms of new epidemics in light of the current COVID 19 pandemic is very much needed along with presenting some solutions based on what we could have learned from addressing the AIDS pandemic.

The analysis and revision of global organizations, programs, and plans in case of an epidemic as well as examples of some epidemics the world has already faced would pose another example of a step forward. Successful parallels could be drawn from the past epidemics and their lessons with current challenges of HIV/AIDS as well as the COVID 19 pandemic.

The AIDS and COVID 19 pandemic has made it clear that the world is not ready to deal with epidemics of infectious diseases and that current efforts are not enough to offer a quality solution. The question is, have we learned anything from AIDS pandemic and how unprepared will the world be for any future epidemics?