COVID-19 lockdown measures have had an impact on the management of the HIV epidemic. Mrs. Barré-Sinoussi pointed out that prevention efforts have slowed down or stopped, as “HIV testing has gone down by 50% in some countries” 3. This negatively impacted HIV screening and linkage to care activities. It has also potentially exposed vulnerable populations to an increased risk of HIV infection.
In order to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19, the Fast Track Cities (FTC)4 network in France developed a number of initiatives, such as telehealth tools and home delivery of self-testing kits. As an active partner to Fast Track Cities since 2018, Gilead Sciences strengthened its commitment to such initiatives by supporting organisations through funding, to adapt to the new “remote world” we are now living in.
Gilead is also supporting the development and launch of a digital platform, created and led by the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC)5 for the French Fast Track Cities. This platform is intended to facilitate the coordination of FTC activities and best practice sharing, as well as to be used to implement key indicators to measure progresses made on HIV incidence.
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of innovation in dealing with a global pandemic. This applies equally in relation to tackling other viruses, such as HIV. With this in mind, Gilead Sciences also supported the establishment of a multi-disciplinary focus group of French experts who are developing recommendations for policymakers on how to improve the care pathway for people living with HIV and at-risk populations. The recommendations are due to be published later this year and will include guidance on options and best practices for rapid access to HIV testing and on tackling HIV related stigma and discrimination and remote access to hospital care for people living with HIV.
The French Presidency of the European Union in 2022 will provide an opportunity for France to bring the HIV epidemic to the top of the EU agenda and lead by example, by sharing best practices and lessons learnt on how to make meaningful progress towards ending the HIV epidemic through initiatives like Fast Track Cities. The European Union also has a key role to play to support Member States in renewing their political commitment to address the outstanding hurdles to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, including accelerating prevention and access to innovative care and treatments.
It is critical that the European Union considers the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and applies them to HIV, ensuring access to HIV testing and other health services to all those at risk of HIV infection, as well as building European guidelines and a clear roadmap to achieve the 95-95-95 UNAIDS objectives6 by end of 2025.
As a company with long-standing experience and commitment to tackle HIV, Gilead Sciences is ready to play its part and be a constructive partner to governments and active HIV stakeholders.
Only by acting together, can we stop HIV once and for all.