Experts recommend linking HIV screening to Covid-19 testing amid concerns over prevention, care

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  • The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a decline in HIV screening
  • Experts believe that HIV testing should be linked to Covid-19 testing
  • Research shows that new HIV transmissions may be a result of the interrupted HIV services

Incorporating HIV screening with Covid-19 testing may reduce HIV incidence and healthcare costs, new research has found.

The study published in JAMA Internal Medicine focused on how the Covid-19 pandemic disturbed HIV testing services in the US. The authors of the research letter conducted a study to find a solution to reviving HIV testing.

Building a testing station

The experts wrote that the Covid-19 pandemic has had negative consequences on HIV care and prevention programmes, including routine HIV screening in healthcare settings. This decline has severe implications for ending the HIV epidemic in the United States.

The researchers set up HIV screening at the Covid-19 testing station at the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) emergency department (ED).

The ED at UCM designed a rapid Covid-19 testing area to incorporate HIV screening without any additional personnel.

The experts partnered up with the Expanded HIV Testing and Linkage to Care Program, a collaboration between 13 healthcare centres,  including community health centres, community hospitals, academic hospitals and five EDs.

The HIV tests were conducted between  1 January and 16 October 2020.

Linking HIV to Covid-19

The findings of the research show an increase in HIV diagnoses compared to the previous four years at the UCM’s ED. The experts say that this could be because of the increased screening efforts, or that patients with HIV may be more likely to present for care because of concern about Covid-19 infection.

The experts also say that new HIV transmission may have increased due to disrupted HIV care and prevention efforts. There were more than double the number of new HIV positive diagnoses in the ED in 2020 compared to 2016.

“HIV screening programmes, particularly in EDs, should incorporate or even link HIV screening to Covid-19 testing. Modelling suggests this would reduce HIV incidence and healthcare costs,” the researchers said.

The main limitation of the study is that the reasons for refusing HIV screening by patients or healthcare professionals are not known.

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