When COVID-19 swept the South, Melprince was wary of seeing some of the HIV-positive patients in rural Blackbelt stop going to laboratory tests and doctors. I did.
Some fell into drug and alcohol abuse. Others refused to leave the house for fear that the AIDS virus would become more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Around the same time, Prince’s HIV organization in Selma, Alabama, stopped sending staff to health fairs and other sites for HIV testing.
“The virus makes it very difficult for us,” said Prince, executive director of Selma Airlines. “We keep informing people that we are here and we are doing our best to meet their needs.”
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the provision of all types of healthcare services in the United States. Doctors postponed surgery to save hospital beds and medical supplies for COVID-19 patients and asked telemedicine for regular visits to avoid exposing the patient to the virus.
The fight against HIV is inevitable. Clinics have stopped or restricted testing for the disease, and public health officials, overwhelmed by the demands to control COVID-19, have kept staff away from tracking HIV patients.
Advances to the virus have already stopped in recent years. Health experts and advocates are now worried that the country is at risk of retreat. With the proliferation of new HIV infections, people are unaware that they are sick and can prevent treatment from working or getting HIV in the first place.
“We are losing people who are testing for HIV and focusing on HIV in response to COVID-19,” Ace Robinson said with NMAC, a national non-profit HIV eradication group. It was. To maintain the care they deserve. “
This issue is of particular concern in the South, accounting for more than half of the country’s approximately 37,000 HIV infections in 2018 and is the focus of the Trump administration’s goal of eradicating the disease by 2030. A small number of people in the South are infected with HIV compared to other parts of the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Part of the black belt — poor agricultural areas from Louisiana to Virginia — first known for soil color and then mostly known for black populations — has a particularly high rate of new HIV transmission.
HIV workers contacted by AP News in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas report a decline in HIV testing since the coronavirus pandemic began. did.
HIV-positive Mildred Harper was afraid to go to a hospital in Jackson, Mississippi in April to check for HIV treatment for a blood test. Harper is advancing drug therapy that makes life expectancy for people infected with the AIDS virus shorter than normal and makes it virtually impossible to infect others. In other parts of the world, coronaviruses block the supply of these drugs.
However, people taking the drug need regular tests to make sure that the drug keeps the viral load in the body low. According to the CDC, if treatment is effective, it is not believed to face the additional risk of COVID-19.
Harper, 56, said the coronavirus sent her to depression and she was “delusional” about contracting it at the hospital.
“It felt like I was diagnosed with HIV again because I isolated me from everyone,” Harper said.
Lee Storrow asked for HIV testing in North Carolina in June, but said the clinic staff he contacted was focused on testing for COVID-19. He said local health officials had stopped testing for sexually transmitted diseases or STIs and the Planned Parenthood Clinic couldn’t see him for weeks.
Storrow, an advocate and educator of HIV policy, said he was finally able to get a home test kit online from a company called NURX. The CDC encourages HIV healthcare providers to mail test kits to their homes.
“I took four different steps to figure out how to get my STI test. I’m the one who thinks about STI tests every day. It worries me and wonders about those who do. The margins are much better. “
Testing at the HIV clinic at Augusta University in Georgia stopped altogether two weeks ago, said Raven Wells, the clinic’s community outreach coordinator. “Rather than just driving and contacting as many people as possible,” Wells said the test was on a reservation basis.
Tony Christon said the site, run by AIDS Alabama, a social services organization based in Birmingham, Alabama, has dropped by about 75% from 30 pre-pandemic tests per week to 30 tests per month. I am. -Walker, responsible for organizational prevention and community partnerships.
Meanwhile, many Alabama state social workers trained to track and remarriage people who have dropped out of HIV treatment are instead engaged in investigating COVID-19 cases, said the director of the HIV Prevention and Care Department. Said Sharon Jordan. Alabama Public Health Service.
“I feel like an HIV community. Infected people probably feel like no one is thinking about us anymore,” she said.
According to the CDC, annual HIV infections in the United States have fallen by more than two-thirds from the height of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s, but the number of new infections has leveled off in recent years. An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are infected with HIV, but more than 40% are unaware that they are infected or the virus is uncontrolled.
President Donald Trump’s administration announced last year an ambitious plan to end the spread of HIV in the United States by infecting people with drugs, focusing on hotspots of infection. Federal health officials acknowledge the agenda raised by COVID-19, but say it remains a priority.
Rev. AJ Johnson, CEO of the HIV Testing Institute in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said: “This is a fight against HIV-AIDS, not a fight.”
Follow Pandemic Associated Press coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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