Egypt 'must protect HIV patients' as fever hospitals are turned into coronavirus testing centres
Hospitals in Egypt are being turned into coronavirus testing centres, endangering HIV patients who must go there to collect their life-saving medication.
On 9 March, the government designated the country’s fever hospitals as testing centres, and Egyptians living with HIV told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that they are "too fearful" to go there to get their medication for fear of contracting coronavirus.
"The government of Egypt should remove any obstacles to access to treatment for people living with HIV," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"The government should ensure that people already facing health concerns can get their medication safely."
The warning comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a list of underlying conditions that could exacerbate Covid-19 symptoms, including compromised immune systems.
The WHO said there was no evidence to suggest that those with HIV who are clinically and immunologically stable on antiretroviral treatment suffer worse than the general population.
However, those with a low count of infection-fighting CD4 cell, or who are not taking or do not have access to antiretroviral treatment, have an increased risk of infections and health complications related to Covid-19.
Human Rights Watch is calling on Egyptian authorities to "establish alternative hospital visits and minimise the chance for contracting coronavirus".
A 24-year-old man who is a call centre agent at a private company in Cairo was diagnosed with HIV in January 2016.
He told Human Rights Watch that he has not picked up his HIV medication since February because he is "terrified he will catch coronavirus".
A 26-year-old man who works as a concierge and was diagnosed with HIV in 2014 said that after postponing picking up his medication out of fear he could be exposed to the coronavirus. He eventually went to the Abbassia Fever Hospital in March to get his medication.
"Although the hospital has separate departments for coronavirus patients, I might have been exposed because I had to enter the hospital through the same entrance," he said.
Egypt has a history of turning away AIDS patients. Last year footage went viral of an AIDS patient being violently dragged out of a hospital in the town on Kafr El-ayat, 110 kilometres north of Cairo.
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Hospital staff at the time said that the patient was a drug addict, who refused to go to a nearby military "fever hospital" when instructed to by doctors.
News that an AIDS patient was present caused panic among the other patients, who feared they may become infected, staff alleged.
The HIV virus which causes AIDS is very difficult to transmit, and infection usually takes place only through sexual contact, the sharing of syringes, or transfusion of infected blood.
Egypt has a low – but increasing - rate of HIV prevalence. 11,000 people lived with the virus in 2016.
Stigma attached to AIDS in Egypt due to socially conservative attitudes and ignorance of the disease and how it is spread are also prevelant.