Authors: Msomi N, Lessells RJ, Mlisana K, de Oliveira T
Failure to get COVID-19 vaccines to nations with high rates of uncontrolled advanced HIV puts people living with that virus at even greater risk, and could drive the emergence of coronavirus variants.
As scientists and clinical practitioners working in hospitals and labora- tories across South Africa, we’ve seen at first hand the devastation that COVID-19 has brought to the country. Many of our colleagues (including leading scientists and health-care profession- als) have died. We have also seen how much harder it has become for people with HIV to get treatment and monitoring, which has meant more people being admitted to hospi- tal with serious illnesses such as tuberculosis and cryptococcal meningitis.
As the world shifts gear in the COVID-19 pandemic — from tackling the immediate crisis to a long-term public-health response — we urge governments, health ministries, researchers and other stakeholders worldwide to devote more of their resources and attention
to the interactions between COVID-19 and HIV. Various studies from before the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines show that people with HIV are 30–50% more likely to die from COVID-19. What’s more, a failure to tackle the pandemic with sufficient urgency in countries with high rates of uncontrolled advanced HIV could lead to the emergence of variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that spread more easily between people or render the vaccines less effective. Conversely, both diseases could be curbed more effectively if they are tackled simultaneously, with public-health responses strengthened by the lessons learnt from both.