PEPFAR’s response to the convergence of the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics in Sub-Saharan Africa

Rachel Golin*, Catherine Godfrey, Jacqueline Firth, Lana Lee, Thomas Minior, B. Ryan Phelps, Elliot G. Raizes, Julie A. Ake, George K. Siberry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

42 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic reached the African continent in less than three months from when the first cases were reported from mainland China. As COVID-19 preparedness and response plans were rapidly instituted across sub-Saharan Africa, many governments and donor organizations braced themselves for the unknown impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have in under-resourced settings with high burdens of PLHIV. The potential negative impact of COVID-19 in these countries is uncertain, but is estimated to contribute both directly and indirectly to the morbidity and mortality of PLHIV, requiring countries to leverage existing HIV care systems to propel COVID-19 responses, while safeguarding PLHIV and HIV programme gains. In anticipation of COVID-19-related disruptions, PEPFAR promptly established guidance to rapidly adapt HIV programmes to maintain essential HIV services while protecting recipients of care and staff from COVID-19. This commentary reviews PEPFAR’s COVID-19 technical guidance and provides country-specific examples of programme adaptions in sub-Saharan Africa. Discussion: The COVID-19 pandemic may pose significant risks to the continuity of HIV services, especially in countries with high HIV prevalence and weak and over-burdened health systems. Although there is currently limited understanding of how COVID-19 affects PLHIV, it is imperative that public health systems and academic centres monitor the impact of COVID-19 on PLHIV. The general principles of the HIV programme adaptation guidance from PEPFAR prioritize protecting the gains in the HIV response while minimizing in-person home and facility visits and other direct contact when COVID-19 control measures are in effect. PEPFAR-supported clinical, laboratory, supply chain, community and data reporting systems can play an important role in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa. Conclusions: As community transmission of COVID-19 continues and the number of country cases rise, fragile health systems may be strained. Utilizing the adaptive, data-driven programme approaches in facilities and communities established and supported by PEPFAR provides the opportunity to strengthen the COVID-19 response while protecting the immense gains spanning HIV prevention, testing and treatment reached thus far.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25587
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
Volume23
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • HIV care continuum
  • PEPFAR
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • readiness
  • response

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