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HIV-Related Care Among Older People Living with HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The lack of current information on COVID-19 risk among people living with HIV may leave them especially vulnerable, particularly those who are older and have advanced immune suppression, feeling under prepared in protecting themselves from acquiring the virus.

A new study by Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work researchers, published in the journal AIDS and Behavior, suggests that most of the study participants continue to receive HIV care in person, although telehealth could be an important alternative to in-person care in the future.

“This paper is the first to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on older people living with HIV, a population hypothesized to be of particular risk to serious COVID-19 disease. We were interested in learning about their experiences of COVID-19 testing, experiences in navigating through HIV care during social distancing, as well as about the stress caused by COVID-19,” said Angel Algarin, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology.

The team of researchers, led by Gladys Ibañez, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and Algarin, had just begun a feasibility clinical trial of a mind–body intervention for older adults living with HIV in Miami, Florida when the COVID-19 pandemic changed the timeline of their research.

“While we needed to wait to continue the project we were working on, we wanted to stay in touch with the participants and check on them to ensure that they were okay,” said Ibañez. “We also saw this as an opportunity to better understand how this population was faring during the pandemic, to understand if they are able to receive the care and medication that they need.”

According to the study, participants reported being able to keep their HIV health care appointments and receive their HIV antiretrovirals.  Participants also reported about their levels of stress, stating that the most stressful things participants reported were potential exposures to SARS-CoV-2, adjusting to social distancing, and issues related to finances.

“We have found that weekly phone calls can help us, as researchers, maintain contact with participants and provides an option for further data collection,” said Algarin. “We also believe that our weekly phone calls to all our participants are helping them stay connected and puts us in a position to help them in the case an emergency arises.”

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