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HIV cannot take a back seat during COVID-19 pandemic

Today is World AIDS Day which is commemorated annually on 1 December.

It is a day earmarked as an opportunity for every community to unite in the fight against HIV and show support for people living with HIV and remember those who have died.

HIV and AIDS in South Africa

South Africa has been relentless in its mission to turn the HIV, AIDS, and TB epidemics around and there are notable achievements to celebrate. A review of government’s efforts in addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic over the past 20 years, paints a mixed picture.

Read more about the COVID-19 pandemic

There have been many scientific advances in HIV treatment and government now has a much better understanding of the virus. An increasing number of people are receiving antiretroviral treatment.

Avert.org has provided the following information on the collision of HIV and COVID-19:

Is COVID-19 worse in people living with HIV?

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.

Our understanding of the risk of developing severe COVID-19 in people living with HIV is evolving. 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. The best way to stay healthy is by taking antiretroviral treatment.

Are some people living with HIV more at-risk of getting ill?

People living with HIV who have a compromised immune system should be extra cautious to prevent coronavirus infection. These include people with:

  • a low CD4 count (<200 copies/cell),
  • a high viral load,
  • or a recent opportunistic infection (for example, tuberculosis (TB))

This is because your immune system may not be prepared to deal with the virus. We also know that people living with HIV are more vulnerable to respiratory infections when their HIV is not managed. For this reason, it’s very important to be taking your antiretroviral treatment as prescribed – always, but especially during this time.

Like in people not living with HIV, older people living with HIV and those living with underlying health conditions should also be vigilant.

Tips on COVID-19 for people living with HIV

All people living with HIV should take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from coronavirus and ensure that they are adhering properly to their antiretroviral treatment.

Your clinic or health care provider should let you know if they decide to change the way they deliver services during this pandemic. In the meantime:

  • Try to stock-up on your antiretroviral treatment, so you have enough for at least 30 days, ideally for three months
  • Ensure your vaccinations are up to date (for example influenza and pneumococcal vaccines)
  • Make sure you know how to get in touch with your health care facility and that you have a plan in place if you feel unwell and need to stay at home.
  • Make sure you are eating well, exercising as best you can (even at home), and looking after your mental health

During this time, some governments are asking people to avoid other people and to stay inside to stop the spread of the virus. This may be particularly difficult for some people. Keeping in touch with people remotely, such as online, by phone or by video chat, can help you to stay socially connected and mentally healthy.