Mon, 06 Jul 2020

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been stranded abroad due to the bans on fli

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been stranded abroad due to the bans on flights and border closures imposed to stop COVID-19. As elsewhere, thousands of non-nationals have been stranded in Egypt indefinitely.

Travel restrictions have had many repercussions on the daily lives of non-nationals, putting significant economic pressure on them and potentially putting their well-being at risk.

The UNAIDS Country Office for Egypt has been working on COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic in the country, establishing a direct line of communication with the National AIDS Program and working with it to ensure the continuation of HIV treatment by everyone on it and to help non-nationals in Egypt to get supplies of antiretroviral therapy.

Sophia Bianchi (not her real name) is an Italian tourist stranded in Sharm El Sheikh. "I ordered my antiretroviral treatment in late April from Italy via a courier service. Unfortunately, the shipment was stuck at the airport customs in Cairo for weeks. I contacted UNAIDS and they have been very helpful, following up daily with the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population to get approval for releasing the shipment and checking on me and my health. They kept pushing through the Eid holidays and it all got resolved in two weeks. It was a stressful time but now I am relieved," she said.

Antiretroviral therapy is available in Egypt free of charge to all nationals and registered refugees. However, as there is no community-based dispensing, nor private market purchase of antiretroviral medicines, gaps remain in ensuring that non-nationals can access treatment. For this reason, UNAIDS' work during the COVID-19 pandemic has been essential in bridging the gaps.

There are strict rules on the dispensing of antiretroviral therapy in Egypt-only close family members are able to collect it from the dispensing centre. For Fatima Ahmed (not her real name), a refugee from Yemen who because of chronic illnesses that put her at higher risk from COVID-19 cannot leave her house, this was a significant barrier to accessing her HIV treatment. UNAIDS got in contact with the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population to get an exceptional approval to dispense her medicine through a nongovernmental organization.

"I have not left the house for more than three months. My family has not been able to support me financially, so I was left without revenue. Thanks to the support of the National AIDS Program and MENA Rosa, a nongovernmental organization, peer supporters have delivered three months of antiretroviral treatment to my doorstep," said Ms Ahmed.

However, much still remains to be done in reaching out to the most in need in Egypt. UNAIDS in Egypt has been advocating for the right to health and universal health coverage for everyone and is working in partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population to ensure treatment for all nationals and non-nationals in the country.

"We believe in the absolute right of everyone to have access to their basic right to health. Ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy during these exceptional times is therefore our upmost priority. We are working relentlessly with our governmental and nongovernmental partners to build long-term policies to ensure treatment and care services for people living with HIV during times of emergency," said Walid Kamal, the UNAIDS Country Director for Egypt.

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