As countries implement measures to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks, national governments should ensure that any measures to protect health do not repeat human rights violations which have inadvertent negative public health implications as evidenced by the HIV response. Criminalization of non‐disclosure, exposure or transmission of HIV is one such strategy which has negative public health impacts, including stigmatizing people living with HIV and discouraging people from learning their HIV status, and should not be applied to COVID-19.
In countries where there are COVID-19 related restrictions to people’s travel, it is important to ensure that people living with and affected by HIV have access to HIV and other services without disruption. This includes being able to access HIV treatment anonymously. Where possible, doctors should prescribe 3-6 month supplies of HIV medication to reduce the frequency of visits to clinical settings.
Healthcare workers should be applauded for their dedication and commitment to providing much-needed health services during this time. If people living with or affected by HIV do experience stigma or discrimination in relation to HIV or other services, challenges to incidents of injustice experienced or observed should be made while being mindful of the extreme pressures being placed on healthcare workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The IAS will continue to work on addressing barriers in access to healthcare services for people living with and affected by HIV. During the COVID-19 outbreak it is important to ensure that key populations, including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people, have access to HIV prevention and other services, including condoms, PrEP, sterile needles and syringes and/or opioid substitution therapy, and gender-affirming hormone therapy.
A guide to preventing and addressing social stigma associated with COVID-19 can be found here.