Are people living with HIV at higher risk of getting COVID-19?
At the present time, we have no specific information about the risk of COVID-19 in people with HIV. Older adults and people of any age who have a serious underlying medical condition might be at higher risk for severe illness, including people who have compromised immune systems. This is why it is important to follow the prevention advice given and get help if you show symptoms.
What can I do to be prepared?
- Maintain at least a 30 day supply of your medication at all times.
- Maintain a 3-6 months supply of your HIV drugs (antiretrovirals or ARVs), during lockdown and later when it eases. If you don't, and can't get a refill before you run out, talk to your health provider about how to best interrupt your treatment well ahead of time, as you can expect delays.
- Don't ration your drugs to make them stretch.
- Not all ARVs are the same, so don't take someone else's.
- Make sure all vaccinations are up to date.
- Plan for someone to come help you in case you get sick and can't leave the house.
- Make sure you can communicate with your health provider by phone or text.
- Stay safe and connected with family, friends, and others who can help.
If I get COVID-19, and I am living with HIV, am I more likely to become very sick and die?
There is still so much scientists and doctors don’t know about COVID-19, including the answer to this very question. However, we do know that people with weaker immune systems are less able to fight infections and illnesses – including COVID-19. Without ARVs, HIV attacks and weakens the immune system. That’s why it’s important to continue to take your ARVs to make sure your immune system is strong.
Is it still safe to go to the hospital or attend my clinic appointment?
The answer to this question will vary country to country, and perhaps even county to county. Your first step should be to check locally with your clinic to find out what options are available to you and how to get the services you need. If it’s possible, the best way to check in with your clinic is by phone. If you are registered with a clinic far away, you may want to go to a clinic closer to your home during this time. In some countries, if you are virally suppressed and are feeling well, you may not need to come to the clinic as often and can be given a longer supply of ARVs. Call ahead, your clinic may be able to have your appointment over the phone. Make sure to update your contact details with the clinic so they can get hold of you. Also check that you have the clinic’s number with you, just in case you need to call them. If you need to go to the clinic and use public transport, follow the COVID-19 prevention advice to keep yourself safe. You may need a letter or proof of your appointment to travel - ask your clinic if this is needed.
What should I do if I am running low on ARVs?
If you are running low on ARVs it is best to contact your clinic or call the toll-free health helpline for their advice on what options are available to you. Some of examples of these options are doorstep ARV deliveries and community dispensing. Where possible, ask for a longer supply of ARVs - at least for 3 months - especially before quarantine or lockdown. If others in your household attend the clinic and know your status, ask them to collect ARVs for you. If you have to collect your ARVs from the clinic, follow the prevention advice.
Can ARVs treat COVID-19?
Up to now, no vaccine or medicine can prevent or treat COVID-19. In most cases, symptoms are mild or can be managed and most patients recover. Research is ongoing to find the best treatments and vaccines.
Is it safe to kiss, hug or have sex?
Coming into contact with someone’s spit - like through kissing - or being physically intimate with them – like during hugs or sex - can easily spread COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads through small droplets from the nose or mouth when someone coughs and breathes out and you are in close contact with them. However, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is sexually transmitted. If you and your partner live in the same household, are following COVID-19 prevention advice and don’t have symptoms, always practice safe sex, such as using a condom. If you are sexually active and are running low on contraceptives, such as the pill, or condoms, please contact your clinic for advice on how to get a refill.
If I get tested for COVID-19, do I have to tell them I am living with HIV?
Your HIV status is yours to share and you should not feel pressured to tell anyone. However, telling your healthcare worker about your status or any other health conditions can help them to make sure you get the best possible care. Remember that laws exist to protect your right to confidentiality, which healthcare workers must follow.
A family member is very angry at me – yelling at me about having HIV. I feel scared they will hurt me, but we can’t leave the house. What can I do?
COVID-19 is creating fear, stress and anxiety, but violence is never ok. If you feel your safety is at risk or you are experiencing violence, you have the right to reach out to seek help and leave. Remember it's not your fault. It can be hard to know where to get help. Think of a supporter you can trust and reach out to. Ask your clinic or call the toll-free health or child helpline for services that can support you.
Need more information? - For more advice on sexual health check out the IPPF Blog - For advice on looking after your mental health during COVID-19 check out this UNICEF article - For advice on pregnancy and breastfeeding during COVID-19 visit: WHO and UNICEF South Africa - To take action, visit Voice of Youth