This article was published on April 7th, 2020
COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on the world. The LGBT community hasn’t been spared either, with cancellations of major Pride celebrations and events, leading to plans for a virtual Global Pride.
The virus is likely to have an even more profound impact on people living with HIV and LGBT people. That is according to a policy brief released by the Fenway Institute outlining factors that put the community at raised risks for infection.
“Everyone is at risk of infection in this pandemic. But history shows that people who are marginalized and consequently experience disparities in health will suffer disproportionately greater harms than the general population,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute. “Because of higher rates of chronic disease and risk factors like smoking and vaping, LGBTQIA+ people and people living with HIV should strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines and take care of their health as best they can right now.”
LGBT risk factors
Queers love the fast life with a penchant for clubbing, drinking, smoking, practicing unsafe sex, etc. We are the party people. The lifestyle exposes us to health risks, with LGBT people more likely to have underlying health conditions.
Combine that with experiences of stigma and discrimination in health settings, which leaves LGBT people, especially vulnerable.
Here are some of the top risk factors for the LGBT community:
- Gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women, have disproportionately higher rates of HIV
- Lesbians are more likely to have poor or fair health, multiple chronic conditions, heavy driving, and heavy smoking than straight, cisgender women
- Bisexual women are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, severe psychological distress, and engage in heavy drinking and moderate smoking
- Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals of all ages are more likely to be living with disabilities than the general population
- LGBTQ youth have higher rates of sedentarism, pre-diabetes, and diabetes
- LGBT people are more likely to smoke and vape and to use substances.
- LGBT older adults experience higher rates of social isolation than straight and cisgender age peers
Precautionary measures for people living with HIV
People living with HIV face an extra set of challenges due to COVID-19. Research shows that people with chronic health conditions, including HIV/AIDS, are at an elevated risk of severe complications from the virus.
The risk is especially fatal for people living with HIV who do not adhere to treatment and thus not virally suppressed.
Given the risks, people living with HIV should make every effort to remain healthy by adhering to their treatment regimen, taking HIV medication daily, and engaging in other healthy activities such as exercising, getting adequate sleep, eating well, and avoiding tobacco and other substances.
Furthermore, people living with HIV should:
- Make sure they have at least a 30-day supply of medications in hand. In Massachusetts, for example, under Governor Baker’s emergency declaration, PLHIV can get a 60- to a 90-day supply of medication
- Ensure they are up to date with flu and pneumonia vaccines
- Establish a plan for clinical care if isolated or quarantined (using Skype or FaceTime, for example, for telemedicine).
- Maintain a robust social network remotely to fight boredom and improve mental health.
LGBTQIA+ people are likely to avoid seeking health care due to previous experiences with discrimination in health care facilities. This is especially dangerous during a pandemic such as COVID-19.
Discrimination in healthcare facilities is ever acceptable. And while we might not change that in the short run, we can help protect each other as a community by taking proper precautionary steps, especially among the most vulnerable.
Stay home. Wash your hands. Save a life.