Olaitan Ogunbodede, Iryna Zablotska-Manos, David Lewis
COVID-19 increases the vulnerability of those at highest risk of acquiring STI/HIV. Altered health-seeking behaviour, reductions in STI/HIV clinic capacity, service disruptions and redeployment of human resources to assist COVID-19 control efforts have impacted on STI/HIV control programmes. Reports of reduced STI incidence are emerging, but it is hard to determine whether this is real or due to decreased testing during COVID-19 lockdown periods. Fear of COVID-19 and implemented control measures have altered STI/HIV transmission dynamics. Sexual health services adapted to the pandemic by reducing face-to-face patient encounters in favour of telehealth and mail-based initiatives as well as more stringent triage practice. Many sexual health and HIV treatment services now operate at reduced capacity and experience ongoing service disruptions, which necessarily translates into poorer outcomes for patients and their communities.
In the short-term, COVID-19 related sexual behaviour change is driving STI/HIV transmission downwards. However, the impacts of the global COVID-19 response on sexual health-seeking behaviour and STI/HIV services threaten to drive STI/HIV transmission upwards. Ultimately, the expected rebound in STI/HIV incidence will require an appropriate and timely public health response.