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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Managing the HIV epidemic amid the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 is at the front of most peoples' minds, but many are also living with a different disease that might make them even more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

MINNEAPOLIS — Before there was COVID-19, there was HIV and roughly 9,000 people living in Minnesota are living with the disease, with about 4,500 of them leading healthy lives thanks to the Ryan White Act passed 30 years ago this month.

"About 50% or slightly over half the people living with HIV in America receive services through the Ryan White HIV Aids program,"said Jonathan Hanft, Director of the Ryan White Program for Hennepin County Public Health. 

With advancements in treatment since the 80's, extending the lives of those impacted by the disease, and limiting transmission Ryan White is serving as a game changer for those who can't afford treatment. 

"People who are virally suppressed do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners," said Hanft. 

Leaders with the Hennepin County Health Department are making it a priority to keep HIV testing at the forefront during the pandemic.

"Testing has actually gone down because of COVID," said Hanft. 

Specifically among some of the hardest hit communities and certain ethnic groups according to healthcare workers.   

"COVID has really illuminated health disparities particularly among indigenous people, communities of color, black both us born and African immigrants," said Hanft. 

With HIV testing down, health officials say they are seeing treatment numbers going up because people realize there is a danger of getting COVID, if they are HIV positive because they have a weakened immune already.

"One of our goals is to get as many people who are eligible for Ryan White program into services so they can achieve those better outcomes by benefiting from the services that we provide," said Hanft. 

If you're interested in getting tested or have fallen out of treatment for HIV and need assistance click here