Australia’s leading LGBTQI health groups have warned that certain community members could be particularly vulnerable during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), ACON, and Positive Life NSW have all published open-letters and guidelines on their websites which cover the basics of Coronavirus (COVID-19) knowledge, including how it spreads, how to prevent further infection, and who within the LGBTQI community is most vulnerable and susceptible if infected.
The fact sheet on the AFAO website, Making Sense of COVID19 – LGBTIQ and HIV Communities, is co-authored by Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM), and National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA). President of NAPWHA, Scott Harlum, is aware that people with HIV may be feeling anxious, especially with regard to supply of anti-retroviral medication.
“People living with HIV can be assured that NAPWHA and the State-based community organisations which serve and represent them are actively monitoring COVID-19,” Harlum told Star Observer.
“We know that providing timely and accurate information for people with HIV is key to minimising anxiety in the community. We have published information based on the best advice currently available to us, and will continue to provide updates on COVID-19 for people with HIV as the science develops and we know more.
NAPWHA can also reassure people with HIV that our anti-retroviral medications are safe. NAPWHA is maintaining regular contact with suppliers who assure us there is sufficient supply available and already in the country to meet demand.”
The CEO of the AFAO, Darryl O’Donnell, told Star Observer that while anxiety surrounding Coronavirus (COVID-19) is understandable, especially for those who live with HIV, the key is to keep taking HIV medication as prescribed.
“The COVID-19 outbreak is generating anxiety for many LGBTQI people and those with a lived experience of HIV,” he said.
“While much is unknown about this virus, there are concrete steps we can take to protect our health and those around us.”
O’Donnell also noted that some states and territories have arranged to keep the cost of HIV treatments low, as well as urging people to talk with their local AIDS Council such as ACON or Thorne Harbour Health if they are having trouble affording their medication.
For those on PrEP, PrEPaccessNOW (pan.org.au) also offers support for those struggling with the cost.
The CEO of Thorne Harbour Health, Simon Ruth, affirmed to Star Observer that access to medication would be paramount while the pandemic continues.
“Please ensure you have a sufficient supply of any medications you’re currently taking,” he said.
“That being said, do not stockpile medications as this can cause unnecessary shortages. If you have any cold or flu symptoms, contact your GP by phone so that they can advise on the next steps for testing if necessary.”
Positive Life NSW issued a statement via email and on their website :
“The current information for people living with HIV is that we are at no greater risk than those identified within the general population.”
“Those most likely to experience more severe illness from COVID-19 are older people over 60 years of age, people who are immune-compromised (defined as CD4 count below 350 cells/mL or not on antiretroviral therapy to treat their HIV) or who are taking immunosuppressive therapy (e.g. for a kidney, lung or liver transplant) or have a respiratory (lung) or heart condition.”
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new (novel) strain of Coronavirus.
Symptoms can include very mild illness to severe pneumonia, with individuals potentially experiencing fever and flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.
People with Coronavirus (COVID-19) may not have symptoms but can still pass the virus on. Furthermore, some people will recover quickly and easily, while others may get very sick, very fast.
To prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), people are currently being urged to routinely wash their hands with soap or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, avoid touching their faces, cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze and avoid contact with other if they’re experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms.
ACON Acting Director of HIV and Sexual Health, Matthew Vaughan, iterated that ACON is working with Federal and NSW State health agencies to continuously update Sydney’s LGBTQI community.
Vaughan also stressed the importance of protecting vulnerable community-members and confirmed to Star Observer that ACON was doing its best to protect clients from Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread.
“If people are sick or feeling unwell, we urge people to stay at home and to contact their healthcare provider if they have additional concerns,” he said.
“Measures have been implemented to ensure the health and safety of clients, community members and staff, including signage with appropriate health messaging, the availability of alcohol hand sanitisers, and protocols for clients and community members on notifying staff of any recent overseas travel.”
Many of the mentioned health authorities have also noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also at higher risk of infection.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often experience poorer health outcomes and were more heavily impacted by the 2009 swine flu pandemic than other Australians. Health experts fear that history could potentially repeat itself.
Smokers have also been named as those prone to higher infection risks due to poorer lung-health than non-smokers.
This will significantly impact LGBTQI community, with a UK report from ‘Queer Voices Heard‘ confirming that LGBTQI people are almost 46 per cent more likely to smoke cigarettes than straight people.
The study also revealed that 72 per cent of the LGBTQI community in Britain either used to smoke or still smoke regularly or sometimes.
Ruth from Thorne Harbour Health confirmed that right now is probably the time to stick to that New Years’ resolution.
“COVID-19 impacts the respiratory system. We understand that smokers are at higher risk of chest and lung infections generally. Today is the day to quit smoking,” he said.
Quit Victoria has published answers to frequently asked questions regarding smoking and Coronavirus (COVID-19) online which can be found here.