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HIV infections could increase due to Covid-19 disruptions

HIV infections could increase due to Covid-19 disruptions

Disruptions to HIV prevention and treatment strategies caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to increased HIV-related mortality, according to research.

The study, by Imperial College published in The Lancet HIV, predicts that six months of coronavirus disrupted health services, resulting in poor access to antiviral drugs and reduced testing, could increase new HIV infections by over 10%  and lead to 11% more HIV related deaths over a one-year period.

The researchers used mathematical modelling to look at how HIV epidemiology and care was affected by the pandemic. The data used in the study was from Baltimore, an area in the United States with a very high (37%) prevalence of HIV amongst gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men. During the pandemic stay at home orders were in place in Baltimore, and HIV testing capacity was reduced with health workers focussing on the Covid-19 response.

Dr Kate Mitchell, from the School of Public Health, at Imperial College, said: ‘Our finding that observed disruptions to HIV treatment will lead to increased HIV-related mortality, even if people have fewer sexual partnerships during the Covid-19 pandemic, means it is really critical that access to antiretroviral therapy and support for adherence to treatment is maintained during the Covid-19 pandemic.’

The research, released last month, highlighted the need for continued and undisrupted access to antiviral antiretroviral therapy to keep infection rates and mortality rates down. With decreased access to HIV services, the use of HIV prevention drug, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) also declined. 

Dr Stefan Baral, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: ‘Unmet treatment needs reinforce the importance of rapidly adapting programs to better serve people living with HIV during Covid-19 with the use of digital and telemedicine approaches, and evaluate these services to ensure they are reaching those who are most likely to disengage from treatment.’ 

In other research, also published in The Lancet HIV, scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that people living with HIV in the UK seem to be at an increased risk of death from Covid-19.

The research was undertaken on behalf of NHS England and the results came from a population-based analysis of routinely collected UK primary care data, linked to national death registrations.

The researchers found people with HIV to be at more than twice the risk of Covid-19 death compared to people without HIV, and highlighted the need for targeted policies to address this increased risk during the pandemic. 

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