COVID-19 outbreak lockdowns putting Chinese HIV patients at risk

Lockdowns and restrictions on movement imposed to control the COVID-19 outbreak could prevent HIV patients from getting access to lifesaving drugs, UNAIDS, a United Nations organization, warned Wednesday.

Separately, studies cited by WHO question the utility of continued travel restrictions in China.

A survey of people living with HIV found that about 33% “reported that, because of the lockdowns and restrictions on movement in some places in China, they were at risk of running out of their HIV treatment in the coming days,” UNAIDS stated. The survey was conducted by UNAIDS and the BaiHuaLin alliance of people living with HIV, with the support of the Chinese National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention.

About half of the HIV patients with dwindling drug supply don’t know where to obtain antiretroviral refills, UNAIDS reported.

The Chinese government and the BaiHuaLin alliance are taking steps to provide drug refills to AIDS patients, UNAIDS said. “The Chinese National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention has directed local authorities to ensure that non-resident people living with HIV can collect their medication wherever they are and has published and disseminated lists of antiretroviral therapy clinics.”

In addition, UNAIDS said its officials in China are working with the BaiHuaLin alliance and “other community partners to urgently reach those people living with HIV who are at risk of running out of their medicines in the next 10-14 days and will offer support as necessary.”

Models show modest effects of travel ban

In a report released Wednesday, the WHO suggested that a travel ban imposed on residents of Wuhan on Jan. 23 was effective in the early stages of the outbreak but may no longer be justified.

According to models of the COVID-19 outbreak, “travel restrictions alone are projected to have only a modest effect on the progression of the outbreak; they would need to be combined with other public health interventions, such as early case isolation, other forms of mobility restrictions, social distancing and population-level behavioral changes to be effective,” WHO stated.

One model cited by WHO found that by the time the Wuhan travel ban was imposed, “most Chinese cities had already received a considerable number of infected cases, and the travel quarantine delay[ed] the overall epidemic progression by only 3 to 5 days.”

The model showed that the “travel quarantine had a more marked effect at the international scale,” causing an 80% reduction in the number of COVID-19 case importations through the end of February.

Travel restrictions bought time but will not by themselves prevent the virus from spreading, according to the study. The authors concluded that “while the Wuhan travel ban was initially effective at reducing international case importations, the number of cases observed outside China will resume its growth after 2-3 weeks from cases that originated elsewhere. Furthermore, the modeling study shows that additional travel limitations [of] up to 90% of the traffic [will] have a modest effect unless paired with public health interventions and behavioral changes that achieve a considerable reduction in the disease transmissibility.”

Another study cited by WHO concluded that the “Wuhan city travel ban slowed the dispersal of infection to other cities by an estimated 2.91 days (95% CI: 2.54-3.29) on average.”

Further analysis of the coronavirus crisis can be found at The COVID-19 content is free to all who visit the site.

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