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Estimating the potential impact of COVID-19-related disruptions on HIV incidence and mortality among men who have sex with men in the United States: a modelling study

By Kate M Mitchell, Dobromir Dimitrov, Romain Silhol, Lily Geidelberg, Mia Moore, Albert Liu, Chris Beyrer, Kenneth H Mayer, Stefan Baral, Marie-Claude Boily

Posted 03 Nov 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.30.20222893

BackgroundDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, gay and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States (US) report similar or fewer sexual partners and reduced HIV testing and care access. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use has declined. We estimated the potential impact of COVID-19 on HIV incidence and mortality among US MSM. MethodsWe used a calibrated HIV transmission model for MSM in Baltimore, Maryland, and available data on COVID-19-related disruptions to predict impacts of data-driven reductions in sexual partners(0%,25%,50%), condom use(5%), HIV testing(20%), viral suppression(10%), PrEP initiations(72%), PrEP use(9%) and ART initiations(50%), exploring different disruption durations and magnitudes. We estimated the median (95% credible interval) change in cumulative new HIV infections and deaths among MSM over one and five years, compared with a scenario without COVID-19-related disruptions. FindingsA six-month 25% reduction in sexual partners among Baltimore MSM, without HIV service changes, could reduce new HIV infections by 12{middle dot}2%(11{middle dot}7,12{middle dot}8%) and 3{middle dot}0%(2{middle dot}6,3{middle dot}4%) over one and five years, respectively. In the absence of changes in sexual behaviour, the six-month data-driven disruptions to condom use, testing, viral suppression, PrEP initiations, PrEP use and ART initiations combined were predicted to increase new HIV infections by 10{middle dot}5%(5{middle dot}8,16{middle dot}5%) over one year, and by 3{middle dot}5%(2{middle dot}1,5{middle dot}4%) over five years. A 25% reduction in partnerships offsets the negative impact of these combined service disruptions on new HIV infections (overall reduction 3{middle dot}9%(-1{middle dot}0,7{middle dot}4%), 0{middle dot}0%(-1{middle dot}4,0{middle dot}9%) over one, five years, respectively), but not on HIV deaths (corresponding increases 11{middle dot}0%(6{middle dot}2,17{middle dot}7%), 2{middle dot}6%(1{middle dot}5,4{middle dot}3%)). The predicted impacts of reductions in partnerships or viral suppression doubled if they lasted 12 months or if disruptions were twice as large. InterpretationMaintaining access to ART and adherence support is of the utmost importance to minimise excess HIV-related mortality due to COVID-19 restrictions in the US, even if accompanied by reductions in sexual partnerships. FundingNIH Research in contextO_ST_ABSEvidence before this studyC_ST_ABSThe COVID-19 pandemic and responses to it have disrupted HIV prevention and treatment services and led to changes in sexual risk behaviour in the United States, but the overall potential impact on HIV transmission and HIV-related mortality is not known. We searched PubMed for articles documenting COVID-related disruptions to HIV prevention and treatment and changes in sexual risk behaviour in the United States, published between 1st January and 7th October 2020, with no language restrictions, using the terms COVID* AND (HIV OR AIDS) AND ("United States" OR US). We identified three cross-sectional surveys assessing changes in sexual risk behaviour among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States, one finding a reduction, one a slight increase, and one no change in partner numbers during COVID-19 restrictions. Two of these studies also found reductions in reported HIV testing, HIV care and/or access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among MSM due to COVID-19. A separate study from a San Francisco clinic found declines in viral suppression among its clients during lockdown. We searched PubMed for articles estimating the impact of COVID-related disruptions on HIV transmission and mortality published between 1st January 2020 and 12th October 2020, with no language restrictions, using the following terms: COVID* AND model* AND (HIV OR AIDS). We identified two published studies which had used mathematical modelling to estimate the impact of hypothetical COVID-19-related disruptions to HIV programmes on HIV-related deaths and/or new HIV infections in Africa, another published study using modelling to estimate the impact of COVID-19-related disruptions and linked HIV and SARS-CoV-2 testing on new HIV infections in six cities in the United States, and a pre-print reporting modelling of the impact of COVID-19-related disruptions on HIV incidence among men who have sex with men in Atlanta, United States. None of these studies were informed by data on the size of these disruptions. The two African studies and the Atlanta study assessed the impact of disruptions to different healthcare disruptions separately, and all found that the greatest negative impacts on new HIV infections and/or deaths would arise from interruptions to antiretroviral therapy. They all found smaller effects on HIV-related mortality and/or incidence from other healthcare disruptions, including HIV testing, PrEP use and condom supplies. The United States study assessing the impact of linked HIV and SARS-CoV-2 testing estimated that this could substantially reduce HIV incidence. Added value of this studyWe used mathematical modelling to derive estimates of the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions on HIV incidence and mortality among MSM in the United States, directly informed by data from the United States on disruptions to HIV testing, antiretroviral therapy and pre-exposure prophylaxis services and reported changes in sexual risk behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also assessed the impact of an HIV testing campaign during COVID-19 lockdown. Implications of all the available evidenceIn the United States, maintaining access to antiretroviral therapy and adherence support for both existing and new users will be crucial to minimize excess HIV-related deaths arising from the COVID-19 pandemic among men who have sex with men. While reductions in sexual risk behaviour may offset increases in new HIV infections arising from disruptions to HIV prevention and treatment services, this will not offset the additional HIV-related deaths which are also predicted to occur. There are mixed findings on the impact of an HIV testing campaign among US MSM during COVID-19 lockdown. Together, these studies highlight the importance of maintaining effective HIV treatment provision during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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