Since floods killed 440 people and left many thousands more homeless last week in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, UNAIDS has been working with communities, civil society and government leaders to respond.
Together with the UN system in South Africa, donors and other partners, UNAIDS has been urgently evaluating the needs of thousands of people living with HIV who were directly impacted by the flash flooding. Swollen rivers and landslides damaged more than 600 schools and 66 health care facilities, while many homes have been left without running water or electricity. The government health facilities that can operate, say that they are being overwhelmed, with their staff – themselves affected by the flooding – being further stretched by the scale of demand for health services.
“It is a very tense and stressful time for everyone,” said Miriam Chipimo, UNAIDS Fast-Track Adviser based in KZN. “Major roads are damaged or flooded, food supplies are disrupted. People are struggling for electricity, water and shelter while worrying about security. Some are having to dig through the mud, looking for friends and family members on their own.”
Using lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and other humanitarian situations around the world, UNAIDS has prioritised a rapid assessment of flood-affected people living with HIV, to make sure their urgent needs are met.
South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, and KZN has the country’s largest provincial burden, with an estimated two million people living with HIV, including 76 000 children (December 2020). The floods have particularly impacted eThekwini district, which is home to Africa’s largest port in Durban. In 2020, eThekwini had an estimated 641 000 adults and 21 000 children living with HIV.
It is understood that many people living with HIV are among the thousands left homeless, and many saw their medication washed away with their other belongings. UNAIDS Country Director for South Africa, Eva Kiwango, said: “Our response to these terrible floods is to ensure that people living with HIV, TB and STIs can continue to access treatment and related services. Our starting point has been to engage with as many relevant parties as possible, to find ways to meet the immediate, practical needs of people living with HIV. It is important that our response is coordinated, reflects community priorities and upholds the principle of the greater involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS (GIPA).”
The Government has declared the floods to be a national state of disaster and has sent 10 000 troops to assist. UNAIDS staff are collaborating on the ground and remotely with the Office of the Mayor of eThekwini, the Office of the Premier of KZN, and the KZN Provincial Department of Health, to help coordinate responses. UNAIDS is also working with the National Association of Child Care Workers which has a large presence in the communities focused on children and young people living with HIV who are particularly vulnerable.
An ongoing project facilitated by UNAIDS has already redirected eight young peer educators to conduct outreach visits to emergency shelters and affected communities to locate people in need, including those who need urgent replenishment of their lifesaving medication. A further 20 child and youth care workers, who are registered health professionals, are distributing medication and providing counselling to affected community members, as well as working with NGOs and others to help distribute donated food, water and clothing.
UNAIDS is working with the UN Country Team through the UN Resident Coordinators office and convening the country-level Joint Team on AIDS, to explore ways to re-programme AIDS funding in support of related emergency measures. UNAIDS is also pursuing similar opportunities with international donors that are already supporting projects overseen by UNAIDS in the province.