KAMPALA, Uganda – With the onslaught of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, many people living with HIV/AIDS have experienced bottlenecks with regards to accessing HIV services and Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs).
According to the United Nations, in Sub-Saharan Africa where two thirds of the 38 million people living with HIV are based, many are faced with the same precarious situation.
A report by the United Nations states that as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, a 6-month interruption of supply of antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs across 50% of the population of people living with HIV who are on treatment would be expected to lead to a 1.63 multiple increase in HIV-related deaths over a one-year period compared to a scenario where there is no disruption.
The report also highlights the potential ramifications of lack of access to healthcare facilities, noting that the “effects of poorer clinical care due to overstretched health facilities, interruptions of supply of other drugs such as co-trimoxazole, and suspension of HIV testing would all have a substantial effect on population-level mortality (up to a 1.06 times increase in HIV-related deaths over a one-year period due to disruptions affecting 50% of the population compared with no disruption). ”
For example, because of the lack of proper clinical care and suspension of HIV testing, those that did not already know of their HIV status can potentially and unknowingly spread the disease to others that didn’t have it. This is also true because of the interruption in condom distribution in the country.
It also disrupts the 90-90-90 vision since there’s no consistent testing and no consistent treatment.
The 90–90–90 vision targets a vision that, by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment, and 90 percent of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads.
Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), has urged all Ugandans to not disregard the impact COVID-19 is having on our population in regards to the spread of HIV. As an organization, UGANET has played its part in traversing the country, sensitizing and reminding people to not forget about taking their drugs (which is very important in keeping a low viral load), to carry out tests where possible, and to use proper protection when engaging in sexual activities.
“We know that COVID-19 is a serious disease that is already set to horribly hit the places with the highest burden of HIV. But everyone, including people living with HIV, should take the recommended precautions to reduce exposure to COVID-19 and combat the spread of HIV at the same time,” urged Dora Kiconco, Executive Director, UGANET.
Despite all necessary precaution, UGANET also recognizes that in many communities – owing to weaker health-care systems, informal settlements, overcrowding and poor public transportation, and a lack of clean water and sanitation – the current approaches to self-protection, social distancing and containment to prevent the spread of both the pandemic and the epidemic may not be viable. However, that should not discourage anyone from taking the necessary precaution to avoid HIV infection, or if infected, to seek counselling and proper medical attention.