HIV rates dropped significantly in 2020. Was it because of COVID-19?

HIV testing
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New data suggests that COVID-19 actually reduced HIV transmission, possibly because people were staying home instead of hooking up throughout the pandemic… or getting tested for HIV.

The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) released data yesterday on World AIDS Day that showed that new cases of HIV were down in England, dropping by 33 percent from the previous year.

Related: GOP Senator accuses Dr. Anthony Fauci of “overhyping” HIV on World AIDS Day

In 2019, there were 3950 new cases of HIV in the England, but in 2020 there were 2630 new cases.

Among gay and bi men, the number of new cases decreased from 1500 in 2019 to 890 in 2020, a drop of 41 percent.

“Taken together with only small declines in testing and a continuing availability of PrEP, the fall in diagnoses in gay and bisexual men suggests a continued year-on-year reduction in transmission in this group,” the organization’s report states, adding that there was less of a drop among people of color, gay and bi men who live outside of London, and immigrants.

Dr. Valerie Delpech, the head of HIV Surveillance at UKHSA, said that the numbers are “encouraging” about HIV in England, but could also be just a temporary effect of the pandemic and the lockdowns. She noted that fewer people were getting tested during the pandemic.

“The continued decline in HIV diagnoses made in England is encouraging, but last year’s data needs to be considered in the context of a COVID-19 pandemic which saw prolonged and unprecedented public health restrictions, coupled with intense pressure on health services resulting in a decline in HIV testing overall,” she said.

“It is now crucial that we continue to ramp up testing and start people on treatment at the earliest possible opportunity. We must address inequalities and find creative ways to achieve a reduction in transmission across all populations.”

Earlier this week, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci said that COVID-19 diverted resources from the global fight against HIV, like funding and scientific research. He said that the pandemic’s impact on global trade made it harder to get HIV medications to people who need them, and they play a crucial role in slowing the spread of HIV.

Fauci, too, noted that HIV testing dropped during the pandemic.

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