While the coronavirus continues to affect many communities, other serious diseases are still present. HIV is another virus that people should worry about as it could be silently lurking during the pandemic.
It was explained that the ongoing HIV cases around the world have faded into the background since public health experts have become focused on preventing COVID-19 infections. Experts are currently voicing out their concern that a silent HIV outbreak may be brewing.
"What we are seeing reminds us of the 80s and I am worried that the pandemic might set everyone back," said Jasmine Budnella, a drug policy coordinator at Voices Community Activists and Leaders-New York or VOCAL-NY, in the report.
VOCAL-NY is also known for providing services that focus on ending the drug war, helping the homeless, and addressing other issues that affect the poor.
According to the report, the United States has developed different programs, in recent years, to help level off the rate of new HIV infections.
The programs are primarily in the form of needle exchange programs that distribute clean needles to people who inject medicines. Medical experts are also focused on distributing new medicines capable of stopping the spread of HIV.
Experts say a silent HIV outbreak may be brewing during the pandemic
According to ABC News, the needle exchange programs have been shut down and many free HIV clinics have closed their doors because the coronavirus pandemic has caused many cities and local health departments to divert their resources and medical personnel to combat the outbreak.
"People have been reusing and sharing needles, sharpening old needles with rocks, or cleaning them with bleach and then injecting because they are unable to access new and clean supplies," said Budnella in the report.
Sheila Vakharaia, the deputy director in the department of research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, clarified that it has always been a challenge to get syringes to those people who need them because of limited resources and the stigma regarding with the drug use.
Currently, it is nearly impossible for the people who previously relied on needle exchange programs to seek help.
Vakharia explained that many people have resorted to sharing syringes or cleaning them without proper supplies because of the lack of resources which could increase the infection rate of blood-borne infections like HIV.
A recent report of Harm Reduction Ohio stated that over 50% of needle exchange sites have closed their doors while the remainder of the affected programs are experiencing cuts in their funding.
To resolve the issue, needle exchange programs across the nation are rushing to find new ways to keep the people engaged with their medical experts and to continue serving the most vulnerable.
The Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition is one of the organizations that's creating new ways to reach out to people. AHRC is currently providing mail-in HIV testing kits to lessen the expected rise of HIV infections while adhering to social distancing policies.
But despite the greatest efforts done by different organizations, Budnella stated that an outburst in HIV transmissions could be experienced because people are forced to share syringes.
"In the moment of COVID, everybody is seeing it slamming in our faces that we need back up systems in place to avoid the circumstance we are experiencing now," she said.