The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change our lifestyles. The challenges of the current climate are already hard on everyone, but even harder on some.
COVID-19 is especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, which includes people living with HIV and TB (tuberculosis).
Those with HIV who have not yet started ART (antiretroviral therapy) or those on therapy but still with weak immunity, are especially at high risk. And tuberculosis attacks first and foremost a person’s lungs, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. That’s why people with HIV and TB are among those who need the most protection against the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lot of clients of our programs are not only physically vulnerable to the new disease, but also socially and financially vulnerable. In Kyrgyzstan, where I work as HIV Programme Specialist for UNDP, many of our clients don’t even have documents, which means they can’t go outside during the state of emergency. Some are homeless; some have been abandoned by their families due to stigma or difficult life situations. A lot of our clients survived on informal jobs, and now find themselves with no resources. All this negatively impacts their situation and health, and may cause the treatment to be less effective, or make them interrupt it or stop taking part in prevention activities.
Receiving treatment has also become complicated
Even if they are keeping up with their HIV or TB treatment, we are facing challenges to ensure patients can safely continue it. We support our partners – NGOs and governmental organisations - to rethink treatment methods during this complicated time.
Not all cases have easy fixes. Many people with HIV and TB have accompanying conditions that also require consultations, surgery or treatment. But now, with all resources going towards COVID-19 and limited movement across the country, many patients are not able to receive the treatments they need. Our UNDP/Global Fund project is trying to find solutions to this situation.
Our clients on preventative treatment, such as methadone therapy, are facing similar challenges. Methadone treatment, which is used for people who inject drugs, is provided for free by the Republican Center for Narcology and Family Health Centers. Not only does methadone help avoid getting infected with HIV from use of old syringes, but it also allows our clients get back to a stable life by taking away the pain of withdrawal symptoms, allowing them to function.
However, during the state of emergency, restrictions mean many patients are not able to easily receive their daily dose of methadone, putting them at risk. Many live outside cities with no means of transport to reach a clinic. Even if they are willing to walk for hours to the hospital, they are not allowed to pass roadblocks. For these clients, handing out methadone that can last a longer period of time can be life saving.