A little more than a month after World AIDS Day 2019, COVID-19 started to impact our HIV programs in Asia as countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam began quarantine. Community testing ground to a halt. People living with HIV worried about access to their medications. HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) enrollment slowed. COVID-19 testing diverted laboratories from HIV services. By March 2020, the rest of the world was equally impacted. FHI 360’s HIV programs were determined to continue serving people, but there were deep concerns. We were not alone, of course; the global HIV community was facing COVID-19 together. But with so much uncertainty, we wondered: Would COVID-19 substantially set back hard-won gains toward epidemic control? Did we have the tools in hand, or could we develop the tools, to weather this crisis?

It turns out that we had many of the strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our HIV programs already, thanks to four investments made prior to the pandemic that turned out to be a lifeline.

  • Strategy 1. Differentiated service delivery
  • Strategy 2. Online services
  • Strategy 3. Community-led services
  • Strategy 4. Robust information systems

Did we emerge from the first wave of COVID-19 completely unscathed? No. But it could have been much worse, and many of our existing strategies, along with some new ones, have likely pushed HIV prevention, care and treatment innovations forward more rapidly than if there had been no COVID-19. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. On World AIDS Day 2020, we push forward with the knowledge that we can adapt and innovate to meet the challenges of the moment but with a prayer that, by World AIDS Day 2021, it will not be COVID-19 that is forcing us to do so.

Read the full article about strategies for HIV program sustainability during COVID-19 by Hally Mahler at degrees.