HIV Testing Dropped Sharply Among Key Groups During First Year of COVID-19 Pandemic

Centers for Disease Control and PreventionImage via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New CDC data published recently shows a sharp decrease in the number of CDC-funded HIV tests administered in health care and non-health-care settings (43% and 50%, respectively) from 2019 to 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. These concerning drops were seen among groups disproportionately affected by HIV, highlighting the urgent need to scale up testing and reduce disparities among the people who could most benefit from HIV prevention and care.

Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, stated, “We welcomed 2020 with optimism. New HIV infections were declining, and attention to HIV was increasing. But just as COVID-19 disrupted our lives, it changed the course of HIV prevention. Now we are at a crossroads. Will we accept the massive reductions in HIV testing, or will we bounce back stronger?”

In non-health-care settings—where people who get tested for HIV provide information about race/ethnicity and transmission—reported HIV testing declined:

  • 49% among gay and bisexual men
  • 47% among transgender people
  • 46% among Hispanic and Latino people
  • 44% among Black people
READ:  Get the Facts About COVID-19 and CDC's New Guidance

To compensate for HIV testing and diagnoses missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC encourages partnerships between state and local health departments, community-based organizations, and health care systems to increase access to HIV testing services, including strategies such as self-testing and routine opt-out screening in health care settings.

“Everyone should enjoy good health—and getting an HIV test is part of a successful plan to do so. Some people may not get tested for many reasons, such as concerns about HIV stigma, homophobia, transphobia, and a host of other -isms and phobias,” states . Demetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH, Director of CDC’s Division of HIV Prevention. “Or they may not know that an HIV test could benefit them. We must continue working together to overcome these and other factors that stand in the way of equitable HIV prevention and care.”

HIV testing is the bridge to highly effective treatment and prevention. Delayed diagnoses can lead to negative health consequences and increased HIV transmission. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once and that some people get tested at least annually.

READ:  Get the Facts About COVID-19 and CDC's New Guidance

While the full impact of COVID-19 on HIV is not yet known, these concerning findings add to recent CDC data that showed a steep reduction in HIV diagnoses and slowing pre-exposure prophylaxis prescriptions from 2019 to 2020.

To meet rapidly approaching national goals to end the HIV epidemic, the nation must accelerate efforts to protect health and expand access to proven HIV prevention tools nationwide, including focused, innovative local efforts through the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative (EHE). The EHE initiative, which includes an emphasis on the role of routine testing, is intended to decrease disparities among populations most affected by HIV.

To help communities move forward with EHE, the President has requested $850 million in FY 2023. These resources are critical. Efforts must be escalated urgently to equip communities with the resources they need to get back on track and meet national goals.

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