CAPE TOWN- While global Covid-19 cases near 15 million, scientists have expressed concerns that the pandemic has diverted resources away from people living with HIV/AIDS who are more vulnerable with compromised immune systems.
There are an estimated 38 million people living with HIV worldwide. According to educational HIV and AIDS organisation, Avert, South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world with 7.7 million people living with the virus, which translates to about 20 percent of global HIV infections.
In an article first published in The Conversation, researchers from the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) say that the effects of Covid-19 pose threats to HIV prevention, testing and treatment. The coronavirus’s rapid transmissibility could overwhelm the country’s already fragile healthcare.
South Africa responded to the national outbreak with a lockdown to flatten the curve, slow the rate of infection and prepare the healthcare system. However, this redirection of resources has had enormous consequences for the provision of healthcare services for other diseases, in particular HIV programmes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy could lead to more than 500 000 extra deaths from AIDS-related illnesses, including from tuberculosis (TB), in sub-Saharan Africa from 2020 until 2021.
In recent years, South Africa has made great strides in prevention, access to care and treatment of HIV. The country manages the world’s largest antiretroviral therapy (ART) programme.
However, the Gauteng provincial health department reported a 19.6 percent reduction in HIV medication collection since the introduction of lockdown. This could lead to further medical complications and a higher risk of drug resistance in HIV and TB.
Lockdowns around the world have affected the supply and transportation of medicines due to travel restrictions, while national lockdowns restrict the movement of individuals and access to healthcare services.
These barriers might increase challenges for people to get HIV testing, treatment initiation, medical male circumcision and treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases.
As the three epidemics, namely Covid-19, HIV/AIDS and TB, now collide researchers say it is critical that public health programmes engage with important stakeholders and the private sector to work towards manufacturing essential commodities in the country so that healthcare systems are less affected by global interruptions in supply chains.
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