How UNAIDS helped in the response to COVID-19 in the Islamic Republic of Iran
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that life would be even more difficult for people living with HIV.
“When experts identified how COVID-19 affected people, it was clear that people with compromised immune systems needed to get a heightened level of care and attention,” said Fardad Doroudi, the UNAIDS Country Director for the Islamic Republic of Iran. “We needed to be quick and agile to mobilize our resources and expertise to make sure that no person living with HIV was left behind.”
Throughout the multiple waves of COVID-19 in the country, UNAIDS has provided critical support to people living with and affected by HIV, providing personal protective equipment and medicines, supporting nongovernmental organizations with small grants to help communities, developing information, education and communication materials and developing a community-based monitoring and evaluation framework.
Personal protective equipment, such as masks, shields, gloves and sanitizer, is a key tool in preventing the spread of viruses such as the virus that causes COVID-19. UNAIDS provided 95 tonnes of personal protective equipment to the Ministry of Health and Medical Education and the State Welfare Organization to be distributed through HIV-related nongovernmental organizations. Items provided included 1.8 million face masks, 60 000 bottles of hand sanitizer and 40 000 boxes of latex gloves, among other equipment.
Multimonth dispensing, ensuring that people living with HIV who are on HIV treatment receive enough treatment to last several months in order to avoid frequent visits to health centres, is a key pillar of an HIV response in humanitarian crises and was at the centre of UNAIDS’ efforts during the pandemic in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
To ensure that people on HIV treatment received their life-saving medicines, UNAIDS procured and delivered more than 650 000 doses of Vonavir, which covered the needs of more than 7000 people living with HIV for nearly three months, and more than 520 000 doses of Truvada, which covered the needs of nearly 3000 people living with HIV for six months. The more than 10,000 people helped with treatment received their medicines through treatment centres across the country.
Ten nongovernmental organizations working on HIV were awarded 26 small grants to increase community engagement and help people living with HIV adapt to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reached more than 14 000 people. Some of the activities funded by the grants include income generation schemes, home-care services, online sales and commerce, mental health support, the development of e-learning platforms, the distribution of hygiene kits, food and medicines and holding virtual events and forums for awareness-raising and stress reduction.
UNAIDS also helped in creating impactful information, education and communication material to enhance knowledge and build awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic. In collaboration with the national AIDS programme, UNAIDS supported the production and dissemination of a series of animations by a local nongovernmental organization. The 16-minute animation series, split into three episodes, covers topics such as the basics of HIV in relation to COVID-19, prevention of the virus in the context of HIV, the importance of continuing HIV treatment and addressing stigma and discrimination. The videos were featured across a number of online channels and platforms, receiving more than 15,000 views to date.
UNAIDS also developed and piloted a community-based monitoring and evaluation framework. This was born out of field monitoring activities carried out together with government partners and civil society organizations.
Online training sessions were organized for more than 200 people living with HIV and service providers. The sessions covered the basics of monitoring and evaluation of HIV-related COVID-19 programmes for nongovernmental organizations. The goal was to improve the effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation practices for HIV within the framework of the national strategic plan in order to improve the quality of HIV programmes in the country.
“Relying on strong collaborations and partnerships was key for our fast response during a rapidly changing time,” said Mr Doroudi. “With the support of donors, a strong liaison with national counterparts and effective collaboration with other United Nations agencies, we managed to be a part of the overall support to people living with HIV, who had to deal with the health, social and economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
UNAIDS’ response to COVID-19 in the Islamic Republic of Iran was funded by the European Union’s humanitarian aid budget and was facilitated in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Health and Medical Education and the State Welfare Organization were the key governmental partners for the wide range of activities undertaken as part of the project.