Eastern Europe has a disproportionately high rate of HIV/AIDS diagnosis and is the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the world, global health officials said on Tuesday.
In Eastern Europe and central Asia in 2017, 130,000 people were infected with the virus causing HIV, marking a 29 percent increase in new infections since 2010, according to a new report co-authored by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe and the European Union’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and released in advance of World AIDS Day, December 1. Another 30,000 new infections were logged in Western Europe.
Further, a higher percentage were diagnosed in late stages of infection in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe, the report said. Moreover, the rate per 100,000 people was much higher in Eastern Europe—51.1—than the 6.4 per 100,000 in Western Europe, the report said. But Russia topped this, with 71 new cases diagnosed per 100,000 people last year.
The year “marked another year of alarming numbers of new HIV diagnoses in the WHO European Region,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement. “Encouragingly, the overall increasing trend is not as steep as before.”
Though Eastern Europe registered its highest number ever of new HIV diagnoses, the troublesome numbers were slightly balanced out by the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries, whose rates of new diagnoses dropped, mainly due to a 20 percent decrease since 2015 among men who have sex with men, the agency said.
These latest statistics came to light in HIV/AIDS Surveillance in Europe 2018-2017 Data, unveiled at the Regional Consultation on Expanding Access to Affordable and Quality Assured Medicines and Diagnostic Technologies, a conference held from November 20-22 in Belarus.
“The report calls for urgent action for countries and areas (especially in the eastern part) to revamp their political commitment and scale up efforts to implement the Action plan for the health sector response to HIV in the WHO European Region,” the authors said in their executive summary.
In addition, the region also has the highest levels of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis worldwide, with one in six of those newly diagnosed and half of all previously treated TB patients estimated to have the intractable version, the WHO said in a statement. The region is also “heavily affected by chronic hepatitis C virus infection, and accounts for the largest proportion of HIV-infected people with past or present hepatitis C infections,” WHO said.
“Prompt health systems responses, including early diagnosis and effective treatment of all infected people, are of paramount importance for effectively and sustainably reversing the epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis in the region,” said WHO regional director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab in a speech at the conference.
She stressed the importance of early diagnosis and ready access to medicines as both prevention and treatment for HIV especially, given that a treated person is less likely to infect others. It’s also important to curb the “triple burden” of HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis in Eastern Europe and central Asia, she said.