- COVID-19 has led to a decrease in HIV testing: Survey
- Fear of contracting COVID-19 has caused disruptions in HIV care: Study
- Disruption to HIV care could lead to thousands of more deaths: UNAIDS
New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of daily life of people worldwide. However, the worst affected are the vulnerable populations, especially those who are already at health risks, like the senior citizens, people living with comorbidities like hypertension, diabetes, kidney disorders, and those living with life-threatening diseases like cancer and AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The pandemic has also threatened the progress made on HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), Tuberculosis, immunisation and other areas of health, especially due to travel constraints and overburdening at hospitals and clinics. According to a survey conducted by biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences along with Mumbai-based AIDS Society of India, about one in three among those who are at risk of contracting HIV have reported they had either decreased or stopped taking HIV preventive medicine amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Also Read: We Need To Prevent Spread Of AIDS By Taking Precautions, Raising Awareness: Karnataka Health Minister
The survey, titled ‘Impact of COVID-19 on access and delivery of HIV care in Asia Pacific’, has also revealed that about 82 per cent of the healthcare providers who participated in the survey from India reported a decrease in the frequency of visits of people living with HIV.
The survey attributes the reason for the breakdown in HIV care to restricted travel options and the fear of contracting COVID-19. The survey was conducted online, from October to mid-November 2020, in 10 countries in the Asia Pacific region including Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. A total of 1,265 respondents, comprising people living with HIV, at-risk population and health workers participated in the survey, including 96 from India.
It is a Pandemic Vs Pandemic Situation: Expert
As per an estimate by UNAIDS, in India in 2017, there were 2.1 million people living with HIV. The same year, 88,000 new HIV cases were recorded, while 69,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses. According to Dr. Veena Aggarwal, Gynaecologist, Consultant Women’s Health, Medtalks.in, an online medical platform which provides continuous medical education to doctors and paramedical staff, there are many similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused over 1.38 lakh deaths in 10 months in the country, and HIV pandemic. Not only are both caused by retroviruses but they are also accompanied by similar public health approaches including behaviour change, adopting preventive measures, increasing testing, contact-tracing, regular follow-ups and a host of misinformation and stigma, she said. Dr. Aggarwal added that while the country was already struggling to contain HIV and AIDS and was able to make some strides towards it, COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it the threat of reversing the gains made in fighting HIV. With the country facing a pandemic Vs pandemic situation, the resilience of the public health system is faced with a serious test, she said.
Also Read: COVID-19 Pandemic’s Long-Term Impact Could Lead To More New HIV Infections, AIDS-Related Deaths: United Nations
The survey has also found that COVID-19 has had a big impact on the uptake of HIV testing, especially amongst the at-risk population. About 46 per cent of the at-risk population reported a decrease in the frequency of taking HIV tests since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Asia Pacific region. This is because the testing is mainly done at the point-of-care and travelling was a challenge due to the lockdown and the fear of contracting the virus.
The survey further stated that almost 47 per cent of people living with HIV and 37 per cent of those at-risk reported that they are concerned about not getting antiretroviral medicines and preventive medication during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Both low and high-income countries in Asia-Pacific are suffering implications on the delivery of healthcare services in HIV due to COVID-19. Despite proactive efforts by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) to minimise the impact of disruption in medical services and delivery of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for suppressing HIV has suffered a severe blow, said Dr I. S. Gilada, President, AIDS Society of India.
While the survey highlights the increasing gaps in the access and delivery of HIV care, UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) has warned that these disruptions could lead to thousands of more deaths.
Tele-Consultation Is Becoming Popular Among HIV Patients, Care Providers: Survey
Telehealth is becoming a mode of delivery for HIV care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst HIV care providers almost 97 per cent of those who participated in the survey use telehealth to consult with patients via telephone or video. A majority of healthcare providers surveyed (76 per cent) expect an increase in telehealth adoption in the future as it offers convenience, allows them to reach more patients and reduces the spread of illness.
Also Read: World AIDS Day 2020: Meet 44-Year-Old HIV Positive Warrior Who Is Helping Other Patients In Their Fight
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.