Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB services at ART programmes in low- and middle-income countries: a multi-cohort survey

J Int AIDS Soc. 2022 Oct;25(10):e26018. doi: 10.1002/jia2.26018.

Abstract

Introduction: COVID-19 stretched healthcare systems to their limits, particularly in settings with a pre-existing high burden of infectious diseases, including HIV and tuberculosis (TB). We studied the impact of COVID-19 on TB services at antiretroviral therapy (ART) clinics in low- and middle-income countries.

Methods: We surveyed ART clinics providing TB services in the International Epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) consortium in Africa and the Asia-Pacific until July 2021 (TB diagnoses until the end of 2021). We collected site-level data using standardized questionnaires.

Results: Of 46 participating ART clinics, 32 (70%) were in Africa and 14 (30%) in the Asia-Pacific; 52% provided tertiary care. Most clinics (85%) reported disrupted routine HIV care services during the pandemic, both in Africa (84%) and the Asia-Pacific (86%). The most frequently reported impacts were on staff (52%) and resource shortages (37%; protective clothing, face masks and disinfectants). Restrictions in TB health services were observed in 12 clinics (26%), mainly reduced access to TB diagnosis and postponed follow-up visits (6/12, 50% each), and restrictions in TB laboratory services (22%). Restrictions of TB services were addressed by dispensing TB drugs for longer periods than usual (7/12, 58%), providing telehealth services (3/12, 25%) and with changes in directly observed therapy (DOT) (e.g. virtual DOT, 3/12). The number of TB diagnoses at participating clinics decreased by 21% in 2020 compared to 2019; the decline was more pronounced in tertiary than primary/secondary clinics (24% vs. 12%) and in sites from the Asia-Pacific compared to Africa (46% vs. 14%). In 2021, TB diagnoses continued to decline in Africa (-8%) but not in the Asia-Pacific (+62%) compared to 2020. During the pandemic, new infection control measures were introduced or intensified at the clinics, including wearing face masks, hand sanitation and patient triage.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic led to staff shortages, reduced access to TB care and delays in follow-up visits for people with TB across IeDEA sites in Africa and the Asia-Pacific. Increased efforts are needed to restore and secure ongoing access to essential TB services in these contexts.

Keywords: COVID-19; HIV clinic; antiretroviral therapy; differentiated service delivery; low- and middle-income countries; tuberculosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Developing Countries
  • Disinfectants* / therapeutic use
  • HIV Infections* / diagnosis
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tuberculosis* / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis* / drug therapy
  • Tuberculosis* / epidemiology

Substances

  • Disinfectants