Impact of COVID 19 on Young People Living with HIV in Malawi by Shyrene Mvula, Malawi
Updated: Sep 18
Young people living with HIV are at higher risk of some mental health conditions like depression and anxiety which are as a result of suspension of HIV differentiated service delivery (DSD) such as teen clubs.
Access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) during the COVID-19 pandemic is quite challenging for those living far from ART clinics. In Malawi, and other places there has been a huge rise in transportation costs hence rise in number of not taking treatment per specific period of time. For a few young people living with HIV who are doing something to be economically independent, its hand to mouth small businesses which depend on mobile markets which have been suspended. This is affecting young people living with HIV as it is becoming difficult to take care of their daily human needs such as food, and paying rent. As a result, young people living with HIV are on a hard corner as many are failing to pay for these costs and many are defaulting and having challenges adhering to their HIV treatment.
Suspension of some HIV services like physical defaulter tracing and safe space for young people living with HIV is contributing to lower retention to treatment in Malawi. Phone call defaulter tracing is recommended during this COVID 19 crisis however, most young people living with HIV do not have mobile phones and the few that have mobile phones are not easily reached due to poor network or poor power supply that render their phones off most times. Lack of youth targeted HIV treatment care as most young women were accessing ARV refill services through safe spaces for young people living with HIV. Suspension of such safe space for young people living with HIV have also removed the sense of belonging because these were safe spaces for young women in which issues concerning them were freely shared and this has increased depression on young people living with HIV.
To reduce number of people attending ART clinics per day, 6 months ART refill is greatly encouraged; however, this has negatively impacted adherence in most young people living with HIV due to lack of frequent monitoring. This might result into increased viral loads and treatment failure hence more deaths of young people living with HIV.
There has been an increase in number of unplanned pregnancy cases among young women living with HIV. Young women are not accessing contraceptive and HIV infection prevention services from health facilities due to fear to contracting COVID 19. Most young women do not have enough and comprehensive information about COVID 19 due to myths surrounding means in which one can contract this new virus making it difficult for young women to travel distances to ART clinics. This is also due to general messages provided which are not specifically targeting young women living with HIV.
Many young women living with HIV are living in fear of COVID 19 considering that people with already compromised immune system are at higher risk of being infected with COVID. This fear is increasing the risk of being infected with COVID 19 as stress somehow affects the body’s immunity to fight against infections. This is adding an additional burden as young people living with HIV already deal with a lot like HIV related stigma, depressions associated with HIV and all this is affecting their mental wellbeing as young people living with HIV.
All in all, there should be a way out for all these because COVID 19 might be here to stay and as young people living with HIV we cannot continue to live there should be ways of adapting than to see young women living with HIV suffer.
Thank you for your generous support for the ICW Young Women's Media Team.