The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has changed our entire way of life. Like all CATIE staff, I am playing my small part in the public health response by complying with physical distancing guidance and working from home. I know that many of the people we work with have had their lives disrupted in much more serious ways – losing jobs, managing complex changes to service delivery, or being redeployed to the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
There is some reassuring news for the people our organizations serve. People with HIV on effective treatment and people with hepatitis C are not necessarily expected to be at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. However, people with untreated HIV, or who have a low CD4 count, may be at greater risk.
We also know that people with HIV and hepatitis C are both more likely to have other risk factors for COVID-19, such as kidney injury, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And with the capacity of our healthcare system under threat, this pandemic poses challenges for the continuity of HIV and hepatitis C treatment and care services.
Frontline workers have sounded the alarm over the threat that COVID-19 will pose to many of the communities we work with: people who use drugs, Indigenous people, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and people who are underhoused or homeless. Without urgent attention to the health needs of these populations, including the social determinants of health, we are concerned that these populations may bear the brunt of yet another public health crisis.
Resilience and response
But in the midst of this emergency, I am inspired by the resilience and rapid response of frontline workers across this country. We were joined by some of them for a series of webinars we hastily arranged over the past month – service providers, researchers and community members who took time out from managing their own crises to share knowledge and good practices with the hundreds of others who attended.
We have also seen familiar experts in HIV and hepatitis C research and practice – too numerous to mention by name – stepping up as leaders in the public health and clinical response to COVID-19.
The atmosphere harkens back to the early days of the AIDS crisis. Fear, loss and grief combined with a community-led response of everyday people stepping up to care for and fight for each other. It’s what I love so much about the movement we are all part of, and why I admire the contributions all of you are making during this time.
We’re all in this together
I know that each one of us is making sacrifices in this time. I miss seeing my colleagues in person, I miss seeing friends and loved ones. But whenever these sacrifices seem challenging, I remind myself what we are asking our frontline workers to sacrifice. They are putting themselves in harm’s way every day to protect the most vulnerable among us. Whatever challenges I am facing right now, they are only temporary and they are not life threatening.
Supporting our frontline workers goes beyond thoughts and well wishes. Participating in physical distancing will give them the best chance of fighting this pandemic and staying well.
On behalf of all of us at CATIE, I salute the HIV, hepatitis C and harm reduction workers on the front lines (and behind the scenes) of the COVID-19 response. We’re behind you 100%.
Laurie Edmiston is executive director of CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.