Eastern Europe Reports its Highest Incidence of New HIV Cases

A new report from the ECDC and WHO shows the disparity of new HIV diagnoses across Europe, with more than 80% of new cases occurring in Eastern Europe in 2017.

Ahead of World AIDS Day held on December 1, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released surveillance data indicating that Eastern Europe reported 130,000 new HIV cases in 2017, its highest number of any year.

In the worldwide HIV epidemic, new infections are down overall by 10% and HIV-related deaths have declined by 34% since 2010, with 21.9 million people with HIV now receiving antiretroviral treatment to treat their illness and decrease their risk of transmitting HIV.

Africa continues to be the focal point of the global effort against HIV/AIDS, where according to WHO there are 25.7 million people — of the global total of 36.9 million people – living with the virus.

In Europe though, new HIV diagnoses have increased by 20% since 2000, and there were a reported 2.3 million people in the European region living with HIV in 2017.

A new surveillance report released by the ECDC on November 28, 2018, refers to HIV transmission as a continuing and major public health concern in Europe, noting that although epidemic patterns and transmission rates vary widely, the region saw almost 160,000 new cases of HIV in 2017.

Of these new cases, 25,353 occurred within 30 European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries, reflecting a decline in new cases particularly among men who have sex with men. A decline in new HIV diagnoses was reported in several countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, more than 130,000 of the new cases were reported in the eastern part of the region, where rates of HIV diagnoses have more than doubled in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Lithuania, and have increased by over 50% in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Poland since 2008 and taking reporting delay into account.

The report delivers mixed news, noting that HIV rates have declined overall in the European region from 2008 to 2017, from 6.9 cases per 100,000 population to 6.2 cases per 100,000 population. The ages of those with new diagnoses are also skewing older, with the median age at diagnosis up from 35 years to 37 years. In addition, the percentage of people who were over 50 years old at diagnoses rose from 13% to 19%.

Overall, EU/EEA countries are on course to meet the global 90-90-90 targets set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. This goal of this initiative is to diagnose 90% of individuals living with HIV, initiate antiretroviral therapy in 90% of individuals living with HIV, and achieve viral suppression in 90% of these individuals by 2020.

According to a new rapid communication published in Eurosurveillance, EU/EEA countries are at 86%-91%-92% for those targets. However, the East region alone — including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus – is well below target at 76%-46%-78%.

“It’s hard to talk about good news in the face of another year of unacceptably high numbers of people infected with HIV. While efforts to prevent new HIV infections are gradually showing signs of progress, we are not on course to meet the 90—90–90 targets by the 2020 deadline. My call to governments, ministers of health and decision-makers is bold: scale up your response now,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, PhD, WHO regional director for Europe said in a recent statement. “To support people living with HIV and protect those at higher risk of infection, we need to fast track action by tailoring interventions. This means investing wisely in prevention, testing and treatment particularly in key populations to end the AIDS epidemic as we promised.”