medRxiv. 2020 Oct 13:2020.10.08.20209072. doi: 10.1101/2020.10.08.20209072. Preprint.
Introduction The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting HIV care globally, with gaps in HIV treatment expected to increase HIV transmission and HIV-related mortality. We estimated how COVID-19-related disruptions could impact HIV transmission and mortality among men who have sex with men (MSM) in four cities in China. Methods Regional data from China indicated that the number of MSM undergoing facility-based HIV testing reduced by 59% during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside reductions in ART initiation (34%), numbers of sexual partners (62%) and consistency of condom use (25%). A deterministic mathematical model of HIV transmission and treatment among MSM in China was used to estimate the impact of these disruptions on the number of new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths. Disruption scenarios were assessed for their individual and combined impact over 1 and 5 years for a 3-, 4- or 6-month disruption period. Results Our China model predicted that new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths would be increased most by disruptions to viral suppression, with 25% reductions for a 3-month period increasing HIV infections by 5-14% over 1 year and deaths by 7-12%. Observed reductions in condom use increased HIV infections by 5-14% but had minimal impact (<1%) on deaths. Smaller impacts on infections and deaths (<3%) were seen for disruptions to facility testing and ART initiation, but reduced partner numbers resulted in 11-23% fewer infections and 0.4-1.0% fewer deaths. Longer disruption periods of 4 and 6 months amplified the impact of combined disruption scenarios. When all realistic disruptions were modelled simultaneously, an overall decrease in new HIV infections was always predicted over one year (3-17%), but not over 5 years (1% increase – 4% decrease), while deaths mostly increased over one year (1-2%) and 5 years (1.2 increase – 0.3 decrease). Conclusions The overall impact of COVID-19 on new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths is dependent on the nature, scale and length of the various disruptions. Resources should be directed to ensuring levels of viral suppression and condom use are maintained to mitigate any adverse effects of COVID-19 related disruption on HIV transmission and control among MSM in China.