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The United Nation says the number of deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa could double if the provision of healthcare to HIV sufferers is disrupted during the coronavirus crisis.

A six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy due to the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to more than 500,000 extra deaths in the region in 2020-2021, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UNAIDS said in a joint statement.

In 2018 the latest figures given an estimated 470,000 people died of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

The two UN bodies warned of the impact if HIV services are closed, supply chains interrupted, or healthcare services overwhelmed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modelling conducted for the agencies said a six-month disruption in HIV healthcare services could turn the clock back to 2008, when more than 950,000 AIDS-related deaths were recorded in the region.

In sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, an estimated 25.7 million people were living with HIV, of whom 16.4 million were taking antiretroviral therapy.

Tedros said some countries were already implementing measures such as ensuring people can collect bulk packs of treatment and self-testing kits.