HIV experts meet to focus on how to tackle HIV in the era of COVID

Over 700 HIV and sexual health experts will gather this week for the joint Australasian HIV & AIDS and Sexual Health Conferences, this year held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and run by the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM).

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Australia’s top experts in HIV and sexual health to drastically re-think our national response and this meeting of clinicians, researchers, policymakers and advocates will come together to assess COVID-19’s impact on HIV and sexual health.

Research about the impact of COVID-19 dominates this year’s program, as experts examine the ways HIV and STI services, prevention, treatment and education have had to adapt to the widespread public health measures implements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as social distancing.

Experts will also reflect on the ways that the COVID-19 response in Australia has been informed by the country’s world-leading response to HIV, with many top HIV and sexual health specialists also playing influential roles in shaping COVID-19 public health measures.

Service-delivery will be a significant focus, with both GPs and specialist sexual health clinics having to adapt to this new environment. Significantly, sessions throughout the conference will also focus on the changing ways Australians are having to manage their sexual health during social distancing.

During the virtual conference experts will investigate how COVI-19 has impacted HIV and sexual health services, and look at how Australia could become the first country in the world to eliminate HIV transmission.

Experts will ask how HIV prevention and sexual behaviour changed during COVID-19, and explore the proposition that COVID-19 may have made it harder to eliminate HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Australasian HIV & AIDS and Sexual Health Conferences follow a year of work by HIV and sexual health experts across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region to better understand how COVID-19 will affect ongoing outbreaks of HIV and STIs. ASHM’s Taskforce on Blood-Borne Viruses, Sexual Health and COVID-19, formed in March this year, has been publishing information and resources throughout the year about the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on HIV and sexual health in Australia and the region.

The Taskforce has focused on the needs of HIV and sexual health workers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing guidance on how to manage HIV and STIs alongside COVID-19; information for patients engaging in casual sex during social distancing; information on the impact of telehealth on HIV and STI testing, treatment and care, and more.

Alexis Apostolellis, ASHM CEO, COVID-19 had changed the landscape, and experts needed to take stock of where the battle against HIV was.

“HIV and STIs haven’t gone away during COVID. Not only that, we’re in uncharted territory when it comes to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on HIV and STIs, both behaviourally and epidemiologically.”

“It is more important than ever that we have the opportunity to meet like this, to share information and ideas, and the fantastic conference turnout even during this challenging year demonstrates the amazing dedication of Australia’s HIV and sexual health workforce.” Apostolellis.

Dr Jason Ong, ASHM Board Member and Conference Co-Chair said there were lessons learned from the HIV pandemic that also applied to COVID-19.

“HIV and sexual health clinicians and researchers have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response this year, sharing what our sector and communities have learned, in particular from the four decades of Australia’s world-leading HIV response.”

“One of the key lessons of Australia’s HIV response is that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities tend to be the people hit hardest during a pandemic. These are exactly the kinds of lessons we must keep in mind as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year.” Dr Ong said.

OIP Staff

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