Public health measures designed to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission led to reduced access to care and prevention services for people living with or at risk of acquiring HIV, particularly during the initial introduction of extensive restrictions. This reduction in access may have contributed to increases in HIV transmission not outweighed by decreases in transmission occurring as a result of reduced contact rates promoted by the same public health measures.
We synthesize available province-wide HIV data in British Columbia, Canada, together with public mobility data to phylogenetically investigate the early impacts of SARS-CoV-2 on HIV transmission. Cluster growth, coalescent branching events and lineage-level diversification rates were assessed in “pre-lockdown” (January 22–March 21, 2020), “lockdown” (March 22–May 20, 2020) and “post-lockdown” (May 21–July 19, 2020) to facilitate comparison of transmission trends across key populations.
Results reveal increased HIV transmission in a limited number of clusters in association with reduced access to health services during the initial introduction of SARS-CoV-2-related restrictions. In particular, clusters associated with people who inject drugs (PWID) show rapid growth, extensive branching events in phylogenetic trees during and following the lockdown period, and elevated median change in individuals’ viral diversification rates during lockdown compared to clusters associated with men who have sex with men (MSM), consistent with increased transmission rates between PWID.
Increased vigilance and innovative targeted solutions are critical to offset potential negative impacts of SARS-CoV-2 or future pandemic-related restrictions on HIV epidemic dynamics.