Regarding the number of undiagnosed HIV infections, new data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization in Europe emerges

A new report marking World AIDS Day, published by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Regional Office for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO), shows a 24% decrease in the rate of newly diagnosed HIV cases between 2019 and 2020. This decrease is largely due to a decrease in HIV testing during 2020 as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and service disruptions.

This situation is worrying, given the increase in new HIV infections in the WHO European Region over the past decade, and it indicates that the number of people living with undiagnosed HIV in the Region is increasing again.

Despite the potential for underdiagnosis and underreporting in 2020, 104,665 new HIV infections were diagnosed in 46 out of 53 countries in the European region, including 14,971 EU/EEA countries (EU/EEA). ). This corresponds to 11.8 newly diagnosed infections per 100,000 population overall in the European Region.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said:

Ahead of World AIDS Day, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize the impact of the crisis on patients and healthcare systems. Clearly, we must do more for people living with HIV in terms of health-related quality of life. Thanks to advances in treatment, the life expectancy of people with HIV has increased dramatically and the number of people living with HIV is greater than ever. This includes bringing HIV services closer to our communities and adapting health care conditions to the needs of patients. We must also invest in new approaches to prevention, treatment and care. Together, we will put patients’ needs first, and end the stigma and discrimination of the many people living with HIV every day.”

According to the center’s director, Dr Andrea Ammon:

“2020 was a key year for HIV, when we needed to reach the 90-90-90 virus suppression targets for testing, treatment and virus suppression to be on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. While we saw a decrease in cases in 2020, It is likely that a large proportion of this decline is due to fewer cases detected early, given that HIV testing services were reduced or unavailable during part of 2020 due to COVID-19 measures. It is fair to say that most of Europe will not reach the 2030 goals, unless we address some of the key gaps in the prevention, testing and treatment chain.

In the coming years, we need to monitor trends closely to ensure that relapses from COVID-19 do not make the situation with late HIV diagnosis worse. We also need to expand primary prevention across the region, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), expand testing, and make HIV treatments available immediately after diagnosis to as many people as possible. Finally, there’s an additional aspect that I think has been overlooked and needs to be addressed: we really need to improve our understanding of the stigma around HIV. “

Dr Hans-Henri B. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said:

With the world’s attention focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget another deadly virus that has devastated the lives of communities and societies for nearly 40 years. Since HIV was first discovered in 1984, it has killed more than 35 million people, making it one of the most devastating pandemics in history.

In recent years, many countries of the European Region have worked to increase screening and treatment while also addressing social stigma. But new data collected since the onset of COVID-19 paint a worrying picture, suggesting that many people living with HIV are not diagnosed in time, which could have long-term consequences for their quality of life.

As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we must get back on track in our fight against HIV/AIDS. There is still a lot of stigma, discrimination and misinformation surrounding this virus, with significant differences in diagnosis and treatment within the European region. Together, we can end AIDS by 2030.”

Multiple HIV services affected by COVID-19

Preliminary data from ECDC show that several types of HIV services across the continuum of HIV care are affected by COVID-19, from preventive outreach and provision of PrEP, to HIV testing, treatment and care programs in the clinic and community.

Countries should focus on reaching key populations

The report’s findings clearly show that the HIV pandemic is far from over. While progress has been made, the 2020 global goals have not been met and there is a real risk that the 2030 goals will not be met either.

The mode of transmission varies across the region, with male sexual transmission being the most common mode in the EU/EEA, while heterosexual transmission and injecting drug use were the main modes of transmission reported in the eastern part of the European region.

Some important groups and populations, including children and men, are not adequately reached by HIV testing, prevention and care services. These disparities have been exacerbated by the complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries need to focus on easy-to-use prevention and testing services, with an emphasis on reaching key populations. Partner notification, PrEP, can assist with HIV testing performed by trained providers and self-testing in line with ECDC guidelines and WHO recommendations.

On World AIDS Day 2021, WHO is calling on world leaders and citizens to come together to confront the inequalities and reach the people who are left behind to overcome the growing disparities in access to basic HIV services.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo