How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect access to condoms, chlamydia and HIV testing, and cervical cancer screening at a population level in Britain? (Natsal-COVID)

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Abstract

Objectives: To investigate how differential access to key interventions to reduce STIs, HIV and their sequelae changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: British participants (18-59 years) completed a cross-sectional web survey 1 year (March-April 2021) after the initial lockdown in Britain. Quota-based sampling and weighting resulted in a quasi-representative population sample. We compared Natsal-COVID data with Natsal-3, a household-based probability sample cross-sectional survey (16-74 years) conducted in 2010-2012. Reported unmet need for condoms because of the pandemic and uptake of chlamydia testing/HIV testing/cervical cancer screening were analysed among sexually experienced participants (18-44 years) (n=3869, Natsal-COVID; n=8551, Natsal-3). ORs adjusted for age and other potential confounders describe associations with demographic and behavioural factors. Results: In 2021, 6.9% of women and 16.2% of men reported unmet need for condoms because of the pandemic. This was more likely among participants: aged 18-24 years, of black or black British ethnicity, and reporting same-sex sex (past 5 years) or one or more new relationships (past year). Chlamydia and HIV testing were more commonly reported by younger participants, those reporting condomless sex with new sexual partners and men reporting same-sex partners; a very similar distribution to 10 years previously (Natsal-3). However, there were differences during the pandemic, including stronger associations with chlamydia testing for men reporting same-sex partners; with HIV testing for women reporting new sexual partners and with cervical screening among smokers. Conclusions: Our study suggests differential access to key primary and secondary STI/HIV prevention interventions continued during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there was not strong evidence that differential access has changed during the pandemic when compared with 2010-2012. While the pandemic might not have exacerbated inequalities in access to primary and secondary prevention, it is clear that large inequalities persisted, typically among those at greatest STI/HIV risk.

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Dema, E., Sonnenberg, P., Gibbs, J., Conolly, A., Willis, M., Riddell, J., … Field, N. (2022). How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect access to condoms, chlamydia and HIV testing, and cervical cancer screening at a population level in Britain? (Natsal-COVID). Sexually Transmitted Infections. https://doi.org/10.1136/sextrans-2022-055516

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