South African’s have made incredible efforts in fighting the stigma against HIV/AIDS which has had an incredible impact on the use of treatment in improving the quality of life for people living with HIV

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic knowing your HIV status offers you the opportunity to ensure your immune system is at its best.

Medicines and diagnostics development company Roche has joined many healthcare providers, developers and experts in emphasising the importance of HIV treatment during the current COVID-19 pandemic as a measure to improve the immunity of those living with HIV. While this is the case, it is also important to understand that being HIV positive doesn’t automatically make you more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections or serious illness.

Related: COVID-19 promotes innovative HIV service delivery in Cape Town

The relationship between HIV and COVID-19

A weakened immune system increases vulnerability to illness and also escalates the chances of becoming seriously ill. This however applies to all people and does not set people who are HIV positive and healthy apart.

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“At present there is no evidence that the risk of infection or complications of COVID-19 is different among people living with HIV who are clinically and immunologically stable on antiretroviral treatment when compared with the general population,” say Roche.

Being immunologically stable means having a stable immune system. Doing this is possible while HIV positive through antiretroviral treatment.

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Why knowing your HIV status is as important as ever

Knowing your HIV status gives you the opportunity to get into to treatment if you need to so you can maintain your immune system.

Roche say knowing where you stand with regards to your health is important for all medical conditions including both HIV and COVID-19.

“As SARS-CoV-2 infection rates continue to rise, all healthcare systems must develop a prioritization strategy for medical tests, supplies and therapies, as well as a comprehensive approach to managing increased patient populations while protecting medical professionals. For its part, Roche remains committed to delivering its coronavirus PCR tests to areas where they can be immediately effective. Because every second counts — both for those suspected of infection and those around them — we continue to target those countries with the ability to rapidly scale up testing and utilize tests received immediately,” they say.

Related:Lockdown: TB & HIV patients who default on treatment are at higher risk for Covid-19

 A low CD4 count means increased risk of illness

While it is true that being HIV positive doesn’t automatically increase your risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19, a low CD4 count does mean your immune system is compromised and you are at a higher risk of being exposed to opportunistic diseases, infections and possibly COVID-19.

“According to the WHO, people living with HIV with advanced disease, those with low CD4 and high viral load and those who are not taking antiretroviral treatment have an increased risk of infections and related complications in general. It is unknown if the immunosuppression of HIV will put a person at greater risk for COVID-19, thus, until more is known, additional precautions for all people with advanced HIV or poorly controlled HIV, should be employed,” say Roche.