““COVID was a huge setback,” said Jeffrey Crowley, a former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy who is now at Georgetown University. COVID-19 has killed nearly 600,000 Americans in 16 months, approaching the 700,000 Americans that AIDS killed over 40 years.
Before COVID-19, health officials were celebrating how new medicines and other developments had gradually tamed HIV, prompting then-President Donald Trump to announce in 2019 a campaign to “eliminate” the U.S. epidemic by 2030.
But now, U.S. health officials are gathering data on exactly how much COVID-19 affected HIV infections and deaths, including how well testing, prevention, and treatment kept up in the pandemic.
There are signs of a backslide.
An Emory University researcher, Samuel Jenness, used Atlanta-area data and statistical modeling to project significant increases in some sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
At the least, COVID-19 halted recent declines in new HIV infections, Jenness said. “At the worst, it potentially brought us an increase of cases for at least the next couple of years,” he added. Limited data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests significant drop-offs in HIV testing and other services.
The CDC looked at data from a lab that handles about a quarter of the nation’s HIV tests, comparing the numbers from March 13 through September 30 last year with the same period the year before. The agency found 670,000 fewer HIV screening tests and about 4,900 fewer HIV diagnoses than average.
There also was a 21% national decline in prescriptions for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. This is a kind of medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent them from getting the virus through sex or injection drug use.