The COVID-19 pandemic threatens decades of hard-won development and public health gains, including improvements in HIV prevention as demonstrated by the 52 per cent and 38 per cent decline in the number of children and adolescents newly infected with HIV, respectively, since 2010. Furthermore, populations that are already left behind are at risk of falling further behind.

The pandemic and the measures put into place to contain its spread, resulted in a sharp economic downturn, which in turn has had negative impacts on national economies and people’s livelihoods. Evidence suggests that COVID-19 has exacerbated the health inequities that already existed, with the most vulnerable, marginalized and stigmatized being left behind. The pandemic has brought to the forefront the vulnerabilities that have long been recognized as the structural drivers of HIV transmission.

According to a new report by the Global HIV Prevention Coalition, the demands on healthcare workers and other containment and mitigation responses, such as lockdowns and physical distancing mandates, have made it extremely difficult to continue the face-to-face health encounters that have long been the backbone of HIV prevention, testing and treatment services. HIV prevention services have inevitably been disrupted, and supply chains for key prevention commodities, including antiretroviral and other medicines, have been impacted. This is reflected in the early dips observed in the monthly numbers of people served by key prevention interventions, including those at high risk of HIV and priority groups such as adolescents and pregnant women.

While COVID-19 has highlighted the stark inequalities and health inequities that exist, it has also paved the way for health systems and other public institutions to become fairer, more inclusive and better able to meet the challenges of ending the AIDS epidemic. Healthcare workers and community organizations have stepped up to the challenge and innovated new ways to provide HIV prevention services to minimize disruptions of the most essential services and ensure that no one is being left behind.

 

Resources on HIV/AIDS and COVID-19

Report: Status of HIV Prevention Services in the Time of COVID-19

Children and AIDS COVID-19 and HIV Knowledge Hub

Press release: The cost of inaction – COVID-19-related service disruptions could cause hundreds of thousands of extra deaths from HIV