COVID pandemic disrupted HIV care, testing – study

ACCESS to testing and treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have been disrupted by the coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a study conducted by a non-government organization and a US-based biopharmaceutical company.

In a statement for yesterday’s celebration of World’s AIDS Day, the Gilead Sciences Inc. and the Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines (SHIP) said the study showed “more than 90 percent of people living with HIV as well as individuals at-risk in the Philippines reduced or delayed their visits to HIV clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It also said the disruption can set back efforts to reduce the HIV incidence rate.

The study showed that access to testing was reported to be most disrupted among individuals at-risk, with 64 percent reporting decrease in frequency of testing.

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

This is in accordance with a statement of the Department of Health regarding its 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 the year compared to last year, but the DOH’s epidemiology bureau noted that there has been limited access to HIV services since March,” said Gilead and SHIP.

The study also showed that more than half of at-risk respondents in the Philippines have said they had either decreased or stopped their intake of antiretroviral medications.

“A total of 100% of them cited travel restrictions as the cause for the disruption,” said the study.

The study was conducted from October to mid-November 2020, in 10 countries/territories in the Asia Pacific, including Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

There were 1,265 respondents, with 153 coming from the Philippines.

According to the DOH HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines, 81,169 HIV and AIDS cases have been reported from January 1984 to October 2020.

In October 2020 alone, there were 735 confirmed HIV-positive individuals.

In a statement, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the pandemic is not a reason to stop efforts to reduce HIV transmission.

“The 21 new HIV cases diagnosed every day means that the country is facing a public health threat, which needs the continuing cooperation and collaboration of all local communities, civil society organizations, key populations at risk, and the whole of government,” he said.