Introduction: During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals faced increasing pressure, where people living with HIV risked to either acquire SARS-CoV-2 and to interrupt the HIV continuum of care.
Methods: This is a retrospective, observational study. We compared the numbers of medical visits performed, antiretroviral drugs dispensed and the number of new HIV diagnosis and of hospitalizations in a cohort of people living with HIV (PLWH) followed by the Spedali Civili of Brescia between the bimester of the COVID-19 pandemic peak and the bimester of October-November 2019. Data were retrieved from administrative files and from paper and electronic clinical charts. Categorical variables were described using frequencies and percentages, while continuous variables were described using mean, median, and interquartile range (IQR) values. Means for continuous variables were compared using Student's t-tests and the Mann-Whitney test. Proportions for categorical variables were compared using the χ2 test.
Results: As of December 31st, 2019, a total of 3875 PLWH were followed in our clinic. Mean age was 51.4 ± 13 years old, where 28% were females and 18.8% non-Italian. Overall, 98.9% were on ART (n = 3834), 93% were viro-suppressed. A total of 1217 and 1162 patients had their visit scheduled at our out-patient HIV clinic during the two bimesters of 2019 and 2020, respectively. Comparing the two periods, we observed a raise of missed visits from 5 to 8% (p < 0.01), a reduction in the number of new HIV diagnosis from 6.4 in 2019 to 2.5 per month in 2020 (p = 0.01), a drop in ART dispensation and an increase of hospitalized HIV patients due to COVID-19. ART regimens including protease inhibitors (PIs) had a smaller average drop than ART not including PIs (16.6 vs 21.6%, p < 0.05). Whether this may be due to the perception of a possible efficacy of PIs on COVID19 is not known.
Conclusions: Our experience highlights the importance of a resilient healthcare system and the need to implement new strategies in order to guarantee the continuum of HIV care even in the context of emergency.
Keywords: Adherence; COVID-19; Follow-up; HIV continuum of care; Public health; SARS-CoV-2.