There has been extensive coverage of the negative impact Covid-19 has had on mental health. However, the mental health of those living with HIV has now been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as ‘a core need and priority [1]. This article explores the additional challenges that Covid-19 has presented for those living with HIV and the reported lack of support those with HIV have received throughout the pandemic [2].

The charity National Aids Map (NAM) reported that “UK sexual health services are being decimated by Covid-19”. With one doctor stating: “We only have a base site. Patients can attend (outside the clinic door) to pick up essential medication/contraception supplies. The consultant (myself) has acted as the courier – on my drive home – dropping in meds to patients who are self-isolating.”[2].

With HIV patients not even receiving the basic support they need to access their medication; mental health support seems very distant.

We spoke to Natasha Dhumma, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the National AIDS Trust (NAT), about the impact Covid-19 is having on individuals living with HIV.

Natasha explains how Covid-19 has exacerbated existing challenges for people living with HIV:

Isolation

Natasha highlighted that “lots of us have been feeling isolated and felt lonely being stuck at home, but those living with HIV might be living with family, friends, and flatmates who don’t know about their status. Being cooped up in a situation where you can’t openly share the challenges that you’re facing is really difficult.”

Job security

Sex workers and migrants’ populations are two groups that are particularly affected by HIV. Similarly, they have experienced a lot of insecurity around work during Covid-19. Natasha explains “issues such as a complex benefits system, uncertainties around income and housing security can really exacerbate mental health.”

Accessibility

Natasha further shows the issues of access: “People living with HIV might not feel as though they can access some of these great community-led initiatives because they might not feel comfortable with their neighbours and people around them knowing about their HIV status.

Even though a lot of services have now moved online there are also lots of people who don’t have online access. Digital poverty has become a really significant feature of the pandemic.”

Covid-19 has shown us how these different life experiences inter-connect; for people living with HIV these challenges aggravate each other and deepen mental health issues.

Key takeaways:

  • Covid-19 challenges are harder for those living with HIV
  • Sex workers and migrant populations are two groups that are particularly affected by HIV. Additionally, they have experienced a lot of insecurity around work during Covid-19
  • People living with HIV might be apprehensive about accessing community initiatives as they may not feel comfortable with others knowing their status

Sources:

[1] World Health Organisation. 2020. World AIDS Day video message: delivering good mental health for people living with HIV [Accessed 6 January 2021]

[2] Aids Map. 2020. UK sexual health services are being decimated by COVID-19. [Accessed 6 January 2021]

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This article explores the additional challenges that Covid-19 has presented for those living with HIV and the reported lack of support those with HIV have received throughout the pandemic

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