When treatment is adhered to, a person’s HIV viral load drops to an undetectable level, keeping that person healthy and preventing onward transmission of the virus. When a person is unable to take antiretroviral therapy regularly, the viral load increases, impacting the person’s health, which can ultimately lead to death. Disrupted services could also reverse gains made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Since 2010, new HIV infections among children in sub-Saharan Africa have declined by 43%, from 250,000 in 2010 to 140,000 in 2018. Curtailment of these services by COVID-19 for six months could see new child HIV infections rise drastically.
It will be important for countries to prioritise shoring up supply chains and ensuring that people already on treatment are able to stay on treatment, including by adopting or reinforcing policies such as multi-month dispensing of antiretroviral therapy to reduce requirements to access healthcare facilities for routine maintenance and reducing the burden on overwhelmed healthcare systems.