People Living with HIV (PLHIV), have been advised to stick to the Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) drugs religiously alongside keeping the covid-19 protocols since they are at greater high risk of getting infected with Covid-19 and becoming severely ill.
Whiles the government plans to roll out the vaccination for all citizens, people with co-morbidities such as PLHIV must ensure that they stick to the ART regimes and keep to the protocols to prevent infections now that people have let their guards down.
Mr Ebenezer Abrokwah, Acting Technical Coordinator of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) for the Eastern Region, in an interview with the GNA as part of the Mobilising Media for Covid-19, a project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in partnership with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) stressed that PLHIV were at risk of getting covid-19 complications and therefore must be extra cautious with their lives.
He stressed the need for people with HIV to vaccinate against covid-19 to boost their protection against the covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Abrokwa said: “Defaulter rate in ART drug is a huge source of worry to stakeholders since it remains the only treatment to manage PLHIVs and research shows that if the prescribed schedules of the ART are followed appropriately, it has the potential to reduce the viral load of patients”.
He expressed the worry of PLHIV people abandoning their medication with others refusing to accept their HIV status thereby, failing to initiate the ART medication, coupled with stigmatization and discrimination.
A new WHO report confirms that HIV infection is a significant independent risk factor for both severe/critical covid-19 presentation at hospital admission and in-hospital mortality, overall, nearly a quarter of (23.1%) of all people living with HIV who were hospitalised with COVID-19 died.
According to WHO, clinical surveillance data from 37 countries regarding the risk of poor covid-19 outcomes in PLHIV admitted to hospital for covid-19, revealed that the risk of developing severe or fatal covid-19 was 30 percent greater in PLHIV compared to people without HIV infection.
WHO has therefore called on countries to prioritize early vaccination for PLHIVs to reduce their risk whiles their co-morbidities are managed.
Despite the limited data, available information suggests that current WHO recommended covid-19 Vaccines such as Astrazenecca/Oxford, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer/Bio-Tech and others are safe for People Living With HIV.
The WHO is recommending that people with HIV should receive COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of their CD4 or viral load, because the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.
According to WHO, clinical trials show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in people with underlying medical conditions, including those that place them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, compared to people without underlying medical conditions.
“A COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19. Depending on the kind of COVID-19 vaccine you get, you might need a second shot 3 or 4 weeks after your first shot”, it said.
According to the International, AIDS Society, There is limited data on health outcomes among people living with HIV who have COVID-19. Continuity of treatment for HIV is essential during the COVID-19 pandemic as scientists determine how COVID-19 affects people living with HIV. Additional precautions should therefore be taken for people with advanced or poorly controlled HIV.
Until 2019, the Eastern Region had the highest prevalence of HIV in Ghana, yet, more than 50 percent of the HIV patients were not on the ART drug but rather, visited prayer camps, herbalists, and other persons who claimed to have a cure for the disease. This phenomenon largely contributed to Ghana’s failure of reaching the 90-90-90 UN goal of controlling the pandemic by the end of 2020.
Currently, the Eastern Region has the third highest prevalence of 2.07 estimating that over 31,758 of the population between the ages of 15-49 years averagely were HIV positive, Lower Manya Krobo, Upper Manya Krobo, Yilo Krobo, Kwaebibrem, and Asuogyaman districts are the top five on the Regional chart recording prevalences of 3.85, 3.14, 2.50, 2.47 and 2.18 respectively according to the 2019 sentinel report
However, only about 13,255 of the figure lower than 50 percent of the HIV patients are enrolled on the ART treatment due to several factors including stigma, false claim of cure of the disease, and other social factors.
In Ghana, the Ghana AIDS Commission report indicates that about 334,713,000 people were living with HIV as at 2019 with a national prevalence of 1.69, and AIDS-related deaths stood at 14,181 nationally.
Meanwhile, over 40,000 people have been vaccinated with either the first or second dose of the Astrazenecca vaccines in the Eastern Region and the vaccination exercise is ongoing in all the districts across the region.