Asia-Pacific survey: HIV patients in PH most affected by pandemic

The results show that more than 90 percent of people living in the Philippines with HIV, and others at-risk, reduced or delayed their visits to HIV clinics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

December 7, 2020

Gilead Sciences, Inc. and the Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines (SHIP) recently revealed results from a survey to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the access and delivery of care in HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections, which includes testing, treatment and prevention, in Asia-Pacific.

The results show that more than 90 percent of people living in the Philippines with HIV, and others at-risk, reduced or delayed their visits to HIV clinics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, eight in 10 Filipino respondents were concerned about their long-term ability to access antiretroviral medications, one of the highest percentages among all respondents in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Philippines has the highest new HIV infection rates in the region.

The disruption caused by the pandemic can set back efforts in trying to reduce this infection rate.

The survey “Impact of COVID-19 on Access and Delivery of HIV Care in Asia Pacific” was conducted online, from October to mid-November, in 10 countries/territories in Asia-Pacific (Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam) by Kantar Health, funded by Gilead Sciences.

It was disseminated to local medical societies, HIV patient groups and care centers.

A total of 1,265 respondents, including people living with HIV (PLHIV), individuals at-risk, and HIV care prescribers, were interviewed in the region.

A total of 153 of these respondents were from the Philippines.

An analysis into the responses in the survey provides additional insights into the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic:

• COVID-19 has impacted HIV testing most severely in the Philippines: The Philippines reported the highest decline in frequency of testing across all respondent groups in the region.

Access to testing was reported to be most disrupted among individuals at-risk, with 64 percent of them reporting decrease in frequency of testing.

Travel restrictions (68 percent) and concerns of getting infected at point-of-care (68 percent) were the main reasons for the change in behavior.

The Department of Health (DoH) previously raised concerns over the lack of HIV testing in the country due to quarantine restrictions and travel constraints.

Newly diagnosed cases in the Philippines dropped by 68 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2019, but the DoH’s epidemiology bureau noted that there has been limited access to HIV services since March.

• COVID-19 has also disrupted preventive care: More than half of at-risk respondents in the Philippines have reported that they had either decreased or stopped their intake of preventive medications, with 100 percent of them citing travel restrictions as the cause for the disruption.

“Proper routine testing, as well as preventive care, are important for affected populations to manage their health to avoid higher risk of health complications.

It is crucial to find new ways to provide support and access to adequate HIV care when they experience such constraints,” said Dr. Kate Leyritana of SHIP. “The increased adoption of telehealth services observed during the pandemic is one such mode of care delivery and we believe that telehealth can bridge the gap in access to HIV care in the long-term.”

SHIP, established in 2015, aims to bridge gaps in HIV response by strengthening the continuum of care through innovation, partnerships, and capacity building.

A leader and enabler in the HIV community, SHIP has been providing new learning approaches to HIV primary care.