Disruption to antiretroviral therapy can lead to more deaths in the coming months.
About half a million additional HIV patients can lose their lives in 2020-21 due to the antiretroviral therapy disruption for six months caused by the coronavirus, a modeling group by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS has estimated. Problems like tuberculosis can lead to extra deaths during the period, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 25.7 million people had HIV, and 16.4 million were taking antiretroviral therapy in 2018. Closure of services and interruption in the supply of antiretroviral therapy due to supply chain interruptions caused by COVID-19.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, emphasized the need for mitigating the circumstances and act to save lives. Medication and essential commodities such as the self-testing kits should be available at drop off points. It can help both HIV patients as well as reduce the stress on the medical professionals.
“The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history,” said Ghebreyesus.
The treatment lowers a person’s HIV viral load to an undetectable level, keeping them healthy and preventing transmission of the virus. However, in the absence of the treatments, the viral load increases and impacts the health in a grave manner, which can ultimately lead to death. A temporary disruption can also have adverse effects on health and increase the chances of transmission.
Executive Director of UNAIDS Winnie Byanyima cautioned that funds must not be diverted from HIV due to the current coronavirus pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic must not be an excuse to divert investment from HIV,” she said. “There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19, but the right to health means that no one disease should be fought at the expense of the other.”
Five modeling teams were engaged to come up with a scenario where the antiretroviral therapy faced disruption for six months. The additional death toll was calculated to be between 471,000 and 673,000 after the application of different models. The global target is to keep HIV-AIDS related deaths to under 500,000 in 2020.