amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

What Are the COVID Risks for People Living with HIV?

amfAR compiles and analyzes results from almost 7,000 individuals

When COVID-19 first emerged, there were good reasons to imagine that people living with HIV (PWH) might be at either increased, or decreased, risk due to their HIV infection or its treatment. What was needed were facts, so amfAR’s Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston set out to analyze the outcomes in every reported case during the first six months of the pandemic. She and ten staff members from across a number of amfAR departments pulled together to comb through thousands of scientific reports for evidence.


The resulting scientific paper has been published-ahead-of-print in the journal Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS.

Data from almost 7,000 PWH were included in analyses. They came from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. They took a variety of different antiretroviral regimens. They were male, female and transgender, and included people of all ages. And together they provided important answers. For example:

  • While people living with HIV appeared to be diagnosed with COVID more often than expected, mortality rates were no higher than in the general population
  • Antiretroviral therapy did not appear to protect from infection, or to play any major role in other COVID outcomes
  • The most important predictors of outcome were pre-existing conditions, especially heart or chronic respiratory disease
  • Even in people not taking ART, the risk of death did not appear to be elevated, although they may have experienced more severe COVID-19

“We are an HIV research organization, and it was important to all of us at amfAR to gain a good understanding of the COVID-19 risks to people living with HIV,” said Dr. Johnston, who noted that amfAR plans to support research to better understand the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and its effect on the HIV reservoir. “We owe it to people living with HIV to understand all the ways in which COVID-19 affects their current and future lives.”