Feature story

Study shows how COVID-19 is impacting access to HIV care in the Russian Federation

27 November 2020

A new study shows the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on access to HIV care in the Russian Federation and shows that people living with HIV in the country are more susceptible to COVID-19 but less likely to seek testing or treatment.

More than a third of people living with HIV who were surveyed reported some impact on HIV services, including about 4% who reported that they had missed taking antiretroviral therapy because they could not get the medicine and nearly 9% who reported that they had missed taking medicine for tuberculosis prevention. However, the majority of respondents (about 70% of people living with HIV) did not experience problems obtaining antiretroviral therapy and about 22% reported that antiretroviral medicines were delivered to their home. More than 900 respondents from 68 regions of the Russian Federation, including people living with HIV and those who are not, were reached by the study.

“This study answers some of the most important questions about the impact of COVID-19 on people living with HIV in our country,” said Natalya Ladnaya, Principal Investigator and Senior Researcher at the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor).

According to Ms Ladnaya, the study confirmed that it is crucial for people living with HIV to protect themselves against the new coronavirus. The authors of the study also note the need to provide uninterrupted HIV treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Encouraging results were obtained on how the pandemic affected access to HIV treatment—many specialized institutions have been able to adapt to the new reality,” said Alexey Mikhailov, Head of the Monitoring Department of the Treatment Preparedness Coalition, who took part in the study.

According to the study, the number of people living with HIV with COVID-19 markers was four times higher than that of HIV-negative respondents. At the same time, they were half as likely, compared with HIV-negative respondents, to be tested for coronavirus infection and were less likely to seek medical help, even if they had symptoms.

The majority of respondents with HIV and COVID-19 coinfection had a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the significant number of local cases of COVID-19 and the low level of use of personal protective measures, as well as an underestimation of the real personal risk of COVID-19 disease.

Although more than two thirds of the study participants were women, among people living with HIV and having had COVID-19 the majority of respondents were men who had lived with HIV for more than 10 years.

The authors of the study point to the need for further investigation into the causes of the increased incidence of COVID-19 and the low demand for medical care to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 among people living with HIV.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all areas of our lives. We need to closely monitor the colliding pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV and provide support so as not to lose the gains in the response to HIV that have been achieved,” said Alexander Goliusov, Director, a.i., UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The study was conducted by the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology of Rospotrebnadzor together with the Treatment Preparedness Coalition with the support of UNAIDS and Rospotrebnadzor.