How are People Living with HIV (PLHIV) impacted by COVID-19
There is currently no evidence that people living with HIV are at a higher risk of being infected with coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19 illness. Current evidence suggests that HIV is less of a risk factor for severe COVID-19 than other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, or being over a certain age.
Despite this news, People Living With HIV (PLHIV) are severely impacted by COVID-19, particularly by the containment measures that are in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Measures such as curfews, stay at home orders and lockdowns, are having dire impact on the continuity of care and on the lives of PLHIV and other chronic diseases.
HIV is a disease that disproportionately affects Key Population and the vulnerable. Many of these people live in unfortunate socio-economic conditions and so life for them is already difficult. With COVID-19, an additional burden is placed on them and in many cases, they are the ones who may become unemployed as businesses are closed or as the informal markets are disrupted. They are not able to sustain themselves and their families during this pandemic and they can be pushed further into poverty.
COVID-19 can cause a scale back in prevention, treatment and care services for PLHIV. COVID-19 containment measures have caused a reduction in clinic hours and service delivery in some places and as such PLHIV are finding it difficult to access adequate care, especially getting access to their medication and other commodities.
When PLHIV lose their jobs or find it difficult to get a job because of COVID-19, they cannot go to seek health care, they cannot buy food and as a result, they do not take their medication, because many of these medications are taken on a full stomach. This causes them to become less compliant and can result in poor control of the virus that can make them ill and increase their chances of transmitting the virus to others.
Another concern is that PLHIV may become reluctant to leave home to seek care, including refilling their medication and to do follow-up tests, because of the fear of contracting COVID-19. This is understandable, because the more one ventures out, the greater the possibility of exposing themselves to the coronavirus. Health care providers should reach all PLHIV to check up on their stock of medication and to facilitate, through home delivery, enough medication that can last them for the next few months.
There is also the need for psychosocial support for PLHIV. Their voices should be heard, and they should be part of the discussions on how COVID-19 is impacting their lives and what assistance they may need to ensure that the pandemic is minimally disruptive for them. If we are to reduce new HIV infections and ensure that PLHIV can live a healthy life, we have to support them during this difficult time.
Dr Rosmond Adams, MD; MSc (Public Health); M.S (Bioethics) is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics and research methods. He is the Director of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP). The view expressed here are solely those of the author and does not represent any organization or institution.