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COVID-19 May Have Set Back Effort to End HIV in U.S.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Resources directed toward the COVID-19 pandemic and disruptions to health care mean we may see an increase in HIV transmissions after years of decline.

Due to resources taken in the fight against COVID-19, the U.S. campaign to end HIV by 2030 may have been delayed, according to some researchers.

Experts told the Associated Press the U.S. may see an increase in HIV transmissions after years of decreasing rates of new infections.

“COVID was a huge setback,” Jeffrey Crowley, former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, told the news service.

About 700,000 people in the U.S. have died because of AIDS in 40 years. COVID-19 has killed about 600,000 people in the U.S. in 16 months.

A researcher at Emory University, Samuel Jenness, used data from the Atlanta area to model increases in the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. He told the AP that the least of what he found was a halt in the decline of HIV transmissions, but that the model also showed a potential increase over the next couple of years.

HIV testing and other related services decreased during the pandemic. Studying HIV tests from March 13 to September 30, 2020, and comparing them with the same time period in 2019, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found 670,000 fewer HIV screening tests and almost 5,000 fewer HIV diagnoses, according to the AP. PrEP prescriptions were also affected, down 21 percent.

Health departments in communities across the country had to roll back services to refocus on COVID-19, and people didn’t want to visit clinics due to potential COVID spread. Sex also probably decreased during the first months of the pandemic, the AP reported. However, while that lasted a few months, the health care disruptions are still occurring.

It makes a target of reducing transmissions by 90 percent unlikely.

"We’re still working towards that goal,” said Kevin Delaney, a CDC researcher focused on HIV and AIDS. “If we are missing millions of HIV screening tests from 2020, there will need to be an investment made to make those up. But the targets have not been changed.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's director, told the AP it would be difficult to make those tests up.

“Do I think it's doable? Absolutely,” Walensky said. "Do I think we have the resources now to do it? I don't think so yet."

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