Depression, HIV, and COVID-19: A Deadly Trifecta – Columbia University Experts

by Bashar Makhay | Jun 13, 2022 | News

In a new article published in the Public Health Reports Journal, Columbia University Professor Robert Fullilove, EdD and Teacher’s College graduate student (at time of publication) David May, MA, discuss the linkages between depression, HIV, and COVID-19, in what they describe as a deadly trifecta. Fullilove is also a member of the PRI Racial Equity and Social Determinants of Health cross-cutting team.

From 1990 to 2017, the number of incident cases of depression globally increased by nearly 50%, and in the second quarter of 2020, the prevalence of depression had increased 4-fold from the same time in 2019. Even worse, certain populations, such as people living with HIV (PLWH), are at elevated risk of severe illness or death because of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has further uncovered the prior existence of health disparities in race, economic stratification, and HIV-positive status.


David May, MA; and Robert Fullilove, EdD

Citing data from the CDC, the article explains that Black people are hospitalized because of complications related to COVID-19 at almost 3 times the rate of White people and die because of complications related to COVID-19 at almost twice the rate of White people. These disparities exist despite a near-equal risk for COVID-19 infection among most races. The authors discuss in detail some of factors that exacerbate these disparities, including:

  • Elevated medical mistrust
  • Racial discrimination
  • Misinformation
  • Healthcare disruptions
  • Certain comorbidities
  • Limited or poor access to care

…this syndemic of depression, HIV/ AIDS, and COVID-19 threatens to further deepen societal health disparities that predate COVID-19. To put it simply, no epidemic occurs within a vacuum.


David May, MA; and Robert Fullilove, EdD

The authors conclude their report with a warning – COVID-19 will not be the last crisis that “exposes societal fault lines; stokes distrust and fear among those most vulnerable to socioeconomic debilitation, illness, or death; and costs societies trillions of dollars and millions of lives.” Further, they recommend governments facilitate efforts meant to combat structural racism in health care, invest in telemedical infrastructure to increase equity and access, and restructure health education curricula in public schools.

The full report can be found via Public Health Reports / Sage Journals, which can be accessed with a subscription through most academic institutions or via a public library like the NYPL.

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