S. Africa’s explosive cocktail: coronavirus and AIDS
Johannesburg: With the world’s largest HIV-positive population, South Africa is moving to protect this particularly vulnerable group from the coronavirus.
As soon as COVID-19 started spreading in China last December, experts pointed to the devastating possible impact the deadly virus could have on AIDS patients, whose immune systems are weakened by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
In South Africa, where coronavirus was first detected in March, doctors have scrambled to organise testing and treatment for the some 7.5 million people who are thought to be HIV-positive.
Only around two-thirds of people with HIV and AIDS are on anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment, according to health experts.
The rest are either unaware of their condition or are opposed to taking medication.
As coronavirus has spread through South Africa — infecting 1,749 and killing 13 so far — scientists are still uncertain about the specific risks faced by people living with HIV.
“We really don’t know in actual fact what will happen to HIV patients,” said Anton Stoltz, head of the infectious diseases department at the University of Pretoria.
But several health experts said it is possible to extrapolate from previous research on how HIV-positive people have reacted to other viral infections.
“We know that patients who are HIV-positive and are on ARVs react and respond to viral infections like influenza in similar ways to people without HIV,” Stoltz said.
‘Wake-up call’
Patients who are not undergoing treatment, however, are more vulnerable to other infections.
“HIV-positive individuals not yet on ARV therapy or those who don’t know they are HIV-positive may in fact (be) at higher risks of acquiring COVID-19,” said Kogie Naidoo, head of treatment research at the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).
It is therefore essential for people to “know their status” and start medication “as soon as possible”, ideally on the day of the diagnosis.
“If you already know you are HIV-positive, adhere to your treatment,” Naidoo advised. – AFP