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HIV Patients Struggled to Access Treatment Amidst COVID-19

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some HIV patients defaulted their treatments as they could not access clinics. Image by Unsplash

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | NOV 2, 2022

Faced with challenges to access clinics, some HIV patients defaulted their treatments at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — The imposition of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the uptake of medication for people on antiretroviral treatment (ART). People on ART like others were afraid to visit the clinics and hospitals as the virus spread at an alarming rate. Lack of transport for those in remote areas threatened the health of the patients as some defaulted after failing to walk long distances.

The unfinished 5 Miles Hospital which is used as an Opportunistic Infections ART Clinic to cater for HIV positive patients was used as a District’s COVID-19 isolation centre. This deterred some patients from visiting the facility despite the Ministry of Health and Child Care having placed measures for the smooth flow of both programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused much uncertainty around the world, including for people living with and affected by HIV. The WHO Global Clinical Platform reported the need for people living with HIV to stay as healthy as possible and regularly take antiretroviral medications.

Dumisani Moyo says he was in a predicament in a bid to survive defaulting ART medication while surviving COVID-19 as he dreaded both.

“I live 15 kilometres from the clinic where I collect medication. I couldn't walk such a long distance to and from. But I needed to survive both pandemics.”
Dumisani Moyo, a patient on ART

Patients on ART say they had a hard time during lockdowns in getting medication as they could have spent a lot of time passing through the authorities. But, most worrisome was the fear of contracting the deadly disease at the clinics. Down the lane, their vaccination status was not clear until medical experts cleared them to take COVID-19 jabs.

“Rumours were also another threat. People would say, we are more vulnerable to the disease than any other people. I then chose to stay home and find other ways. Only later after an informed explanation, I made efforts to visit the clinic and collect my medication,” adds Moyo.

HIV patients are encouraged to take the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves. Image by UNICEF

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that HIV increases the risk of COVID-19 illness and lowers the chance of survival. However, people on ART or with a lower viral load are less likely to be admitted with severe COVID-19 and less likely to die. These results backed the decision for people living with HIV to be a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination.

“Health authorities strongly recommended that everyone living with HIV, regardless of CD4 count, receive a COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. People living with HIV were prioritised.”
Mellisa Choga, a retired registered nurse

The research by WHO after the COVID-19 outbreak, shows that people living with HIV who are immunocompromised were at an increased risk of severe COVID-19.

People living with HIV who know their status and not yet on antiretroviral treatment (ART) were encouraged to start treatment without delay.

ALSO READ: Pass Rates in Local Schools Deteriorate Amidst COVID-19

A local health worker stationed at Lusumbani Clinic, Patience Moyo, says defaulting medication put the lives of many people at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, with others dying after having survived on medication for years.

“People living with HIV who are on ART should ensure that they have at least 30 days of antiretroviral (ARVs) with them and, where possible, a three- to six-month supply of ARVs. The World Health Organisation recommends that clinically stable adults, children, adolescents and pregnant and breastfeeding women could benefit from multi-month prescriptions and refills.”

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