New HIV in­fec­tions surge in Europe

The Star Early Edition - - HEALTH -

LONDON: De­spite ma­jor ad­vances in treat­ing and pre­vent­ing HIV, Europe and cen­tral Asia have failed to tackle the epi­demic, with about 136 000 peo­ple be­com­ing newly in­fected with the in­cur­able HIV/Aids virus last year, health of­fi­cials say.

Fig­ures from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) and the Euro­pean Cen­tre for Dis­ease Preven­tion and Con­trol (ECDC) showed 80 per­cent more new HIV cases last year com­pared to 2004, mean­ing a cru­cial tar­get to re­verse the tide of Aids in the re­gion will be missed.

“Europe has not man­aged to reach the 2015 Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goal tar­get… and time is run­ning out,” WHO re­gional di­rec­tor Zsuzsanna Jakab said yes­ter­day. “We can­not af­ford drop­ping our guard on HIV/Aids.”

The hu­man im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency virus (HIV) at­tacks the im­mune sys­tem and causes a life­long ill­ness. The end-stage of the in­fec­tion, ac­quired im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency syn­drome (Aids), is a re­sult of the im­mune sys­tem be­ing de­stroyed.

HIV is spread via blood, se­men and breast milk. There is no cure, but Aids can be kept at bay for years in peo­ple with HIV who take cock­tails of an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs. The drugs also help pre­vent in­fected peo­ple from pass­ing HIV to oth­ers.

Of the new HIV in­fec­tions last year in the 53 coun­tries of the WHO’s Euro­pean re­gion, more than 105 000 were re­ported in east­ern Europe and cen­tral Asia.

Com­pared to 2004, there has been a two-fold surge in new HIV cases in coun­tries in th­ese re­gions – largely driven by an HIV epi­demic among drug users – and EU and Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area coun­tries have seen no de­cline.

In east­ern Europe, where 77 per­cent of all new in­fec­tions were re­ported last year, twothirds of cases among in­ject­ing drug users were de­tected late, Jakab said.

“This means they are more

We can­not af­ford drop­ping our guard on HIV/Aids

likely to trans­mit HIV, their treat­ment is more ex­pen­sive, and they are more likely to die,” she said.

ECDC di­rec­tor Marc Sprenger said groups at high­est HIV risk in western Europe were not reached ef­fec­tively by preven­tion ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly gay and bi­sex­ual men. In the EU and Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area, sex be­tween men is still the main mode of HIV trans­mis­sion, ac­count­ing for 42 per­cent of new cases last year.

“The num­ber of HIV di­ag­noses among this group… has been go­ing up in all but four (of th­ese) coun­tries,” Sprenger said. “Preven­tion and con­trol of HIV among men who have sex with men has to be a cor­ner­stone of na­tional HIV pro­grammes.” – Reuters

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