HIV, COVID-19 and the importance of public health

From The Hill

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it is a sobering moment to recognize and take stock of another epidemic that we have been battling for nearly four decades. The first HIV Testing Day was 25 years ago and emphasized the opportunity for individuals to take control of their health by getting tested for HIV. It has become an annual reminder that the HIV epidemic is still with us. This year the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic threatens the ability of those with undiagnosed HIV and those with other serious conditions to take control of their health.

decorative imageAs an infectious disease physician specializing in HIV, I worry about the many individuals who do not have easy access to HIV testing now because testing venues have been shut down by the pandemic. Already too many of my patients do not discover they have HIV until they are ill with advanced disease or AIDS. In Georgia, the state with the highest rate of new cases in the U.S., nearly one-quarter of patients are diagnosed with AIDS within one year of being diagnosed with HIV.

This means they have been living, undiagnosed, with the virus for up to 10 years and have been unable to benefit from the HIV treatment that could have kept them healthy and prevented transmission to others. This is tragic given that a strong public health system with widespread testing could prevent death.

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