The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on HIV and AIDS — which counts over 150 MPs and peers as members — recently published its report on the impact of COVID-19 on HIV prevention and treatment.
The report states that “Since the easing of lockdown, major concerns remain that BAME communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, HIV and mental health.”
Care and prevention efforts have… been hindered by COVID-19” in the UK specifically, said the APPG, whose members include Hilary Benn, David Lammy, Anna Soubry, Dawn Butler, Baroness Barker and John McDonnell.
The report’s executive summary is highlighted below and you can download the full report here.
“While the world struggles to deal with COVID-19, the ongoing HIV epidemic continues to present huge challenges for people, communities and governments worldwide.
The overwhelming evidence that HIV services in the poorest parts of the world are suffering mass disruption is extremely concerning and if not addressed, could lead to two decades of progress being eroded in a single year; and deaths from AIDS-related causes could overtake deaths from COVID-19.
The current pandemic is now unfortunately being used as an excuse by some governments to target specific vulnerable groups. This is a major human rights concern in itself and will only make testing, treatment and prevention of both HIV and COVID-19 more difficult. It is vital that the UK government actively ensures that the COVID-19 responses that it supports have a strong human rights component and that they do noterode or violate human rights.
Stigma associated with COVID-19 and HIV is a live threat which is damaging to the public health response for both infections. Governments globally should be alert to the fact that COVID-19 is being weaponised to attack vulnerable groups. Ideally there should be a harm reduction approach to tackling both HIV and COVID-19 across allcountries. The history of the HIV response shows us that penalising and shaming people for not observing social distancing will be counterproductive in the long run.
BAME communities are particularly impacted by both HIV and COVID-19 because of health inequalities and long-standing discrimination. BAME-led organisations are underfunded within the HIV sector and are struggling to cope with the high increase in demand for their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
People living with HIV are already at particularly high risk of poor mental health for multiple and intersected reasons: HIV stigma continues to plague this vulnerable group of people; high levels of trauma and pre-existing mental health conditions within the cohort of people living with HIV; and the disproportionate number of people who are affected from marginalised groups.
Many of these risk factors apply to both COVID-19 and HIV, creating multiple layers of risk to mental health for people living with HIV. Without sufficient mental health support for people with HIV, adherence rates will deteriorate and infections will increase.
So far during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some concerning signs that the UK government is not giving the ongoing HIV epidemic sufficient attention. Incorrect information shared domestically to those living with HIV, by the Department of Health and Social Care about shielding has taken months to address. Even then, the response did not come from a Ministerial level. The recent announcement that UK aid will be decreased, the merger of DFID and the FCO, and the lack of clarity on the future focus on global health in the government’s international aid priorities, are equally concerning.
It is crucial that HIV and AIDS remains firmly on the agenda of the UK government both domestically and internationally – who must be held to their promise to reach zero new infections by 2030.”
Download the report here.