HIV positives not on ARVs risk worse Covid-19 outcomes – testing now for HIV is essential

South Africans with compromised immune systems are likely to be at risk of worse outcomes should they become infected with Covid-19.  Getting tested for HIV for those who do not know their HIV status is key to surviving the coronavirus says, Dr Seithati Molefi, deputy chief of party at healthcare NPO, Right to Care. “Having a suppressed immune system means your body will not be able to fight Covid-19 effectively. It is critical that you get tested to know your status so that you can start antiretroviral (ARV) treatment should you be positive,” she says.

Molefi adds that those who are already taking ARVs are stronger and likely better able to fight Covid-19. “Patients who have stopped taking their ARVs are also at risk of severe disease and should ensure that they get back on their medication immediately.”

The lockdown has resulted in confusion about where citizens can go to for testing, but healthcare clinics and hospitals are essential services and continue to be open for HIV tests, ARV refills and all other important health services under any lockdown level.

Molefi explains, “Anyone who is seeking medical care during the lockdown will not get into trouble with the authorities, since healthcare is an essential service.  It is also important that everyone continues to take their chronic medication so they are as healthy as possible.” 

Get tested for Covid-19 and HIV at your home

The Department of Health and Right to Care have been going door-to-door to screen for Covid-19.

Those who wish to be tested for HIV, can ask the healthcare workers at their home to test them at the same time they are screened for Covid-19 at no charge, as some of the door to door teams are also offering HIV tests. If they cannot test you, they should be able to organise testing for you.

Dr Chuka Onaga, deputy chief of party in Mpumalanga  explains, “If you don’t know your HIV status, Right to Care and the Department of Health community counsellors will give you a respectful, free and confidential HIV test wherever you are comfortable: at your nearest facility, in your community or your home, making it easy for you to test, start treatment and stay on treatment. If you are in Ehlanzeni district, Mpumalanga or Thabo Mofutsananya district in the Free State and want to test, send a WhatsApp or phone Right to Care’s helpline on 079 851 2490.”

Socially distant medicine collection

For patients who want to collect their chronic medication, including ARVs but want to be as socially distant as possible, the Department of Health CCMDD programme allows stable patients to collect their medication from external pick up points.  Collect & Go smart lockers are available in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State for use even during the lockdown. The lockers, which are a result of a collaboration between Right ePharmacy and the Department of Health, are conveniently located in communities. A full list of nearby locations appears on the Collect & Go website.

“Making use of the lockers means that people who visit healthcare facilities to collect their chronic medication will not have to stress about waiting in queues during the lockdown,” says Dr Onaga. Patients with stable conditions are registered by their healthcare facility to use the lockers. When it’s time for you to collect your medication, you will get a onetime pin via SMS which you will use to access the locker. You will be provided with a two-month supply of medication and will be reminded to collect every second month. After a year, you’ll return to your clinic for a check-up and a new prescription.

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