The shift in medical priorities and the restrictions of health clinics due to social distancing may severely affect those seeking testing and treatment for STDs and HIV, experts say.
“We are seeing a complete disruption to STD prevention here in the United States,” David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) told The Hill.
Many disease specialists who normally contact people testing positive for HIV or STD, and making sure that they’re getting treatment, have been reassigned to the COVID-19 response. Clinics are limiting hours and are not accepting walk-in patients, while cutting back on outreach services. Some have closed entirely, according to The Hill.
Christopher Hall, an HIV physician and medical advisor to the NCSD, says that these cutbacks leave many patients untreated and could lead to increased transmission of sexually related diseases.
According to The Hill, record-high STD rates have become their own epidemic. Cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia increased for the fifth straight year, affecting mainly African American men who have had sex with other men.
According to CNN, the alarming rise in these sexually transmitted diseases total 2.4 million infections reported in 2018 alone. That number marks the most cases ever recorded since monitoring began in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s proposal to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 has been put on hold as federal and local health officials focus on the coronavirus crisis. While there is no cure for HIV, it is effectively treatable with anti-viral medication, says The Hill. While some clinics are using telemedicine to help patients by sending them at-home testing kits and mailing them treatments if they test positive, this doesn’t help those who are asymptomatic who may be detected through routine screening.
“Our resources to ensure those individuals are tested are even more compromised in this era,” said Hall. “Reaching the undiagnosed is even more challenging, difficult and unlikely to happen.”
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