Prague, Czech Republic – According to the latest report by UNAIDS, while western and central Europe as a whole has exceeded the viral load suppression target of 73% of all people living with HIV, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have all seen a precipitous rise of HIV infections in recent years.
New HIV infections in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland
The three central European countries saw the three biggest increases in annual HIV diagnoses in the region: +128% in the Czech Republic; +106% in Slovakia; and +88% in Poland.
On a more positive note, Hungary saw an 8% decrease in new HIV diagnoses over that same period.
These figures should nonetheless be put into perspective. In the cases of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, each country had less than 500 infections in 2018, while Poland had about 1,500 new HIV diagnoses in 2018, as opposed to about 800 in 2010.
A worrying trend, however, is that fact that, according to the UNAIDS report, only about 61% of people living with HIV in Slovakia, and 65% of those in the Czech Republic, know their HIV status, as opposed to 90% in Hungary, which is above the western and central Europe and North American average of 88%.
As a result, only 46% of people living with HIV in Slovakia, and 51% of those living in the Czech Republic, are virally suppressed, way below the regional average of 64%. This could partially explain the precipitous rise of new HIV diagnoses in these countries.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland all have laws criminalizing the transmission of, nondisclosure of, or exposure to HIV transmission.
Insufficient to reach the 2020 target
The estimated number of new HIV infections in western and central Europe and North America has nevertheless declined over the past decade, but the pace of decline is insufficient to reach the region’s 2020 target, says UNAIDS.
While the United States leads the world in the roll-out of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment for people at higher risk of HIV infection, with more than 130,000 current users in mid-2019, nearly half of the global total, comprehensive harm reduction programmes in western and central Europe have pushed new HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs to an all-time low.
However, local HIV outbreaks continue to occur, demonstrating the importance of keeping harm reduction at high coverage and addressing new challenges, such as stimulant injecting and chemsex.
40 years on, the focus remains on Africa
Almost 40 years after the first cases of AIDS were reported in New York, the state’s governor has announced that the end of the epidemic in New York is near. Worldwide, there are many signs for optimism, but the fight is far from over, reports Politico.
While new infections and AIDS-related deaths are decreasing, two in five people living with HIV still don’t have access to antiretroviral therapy.
With PrEP proving to be a game-changer, and investment in AIDS cure research skyrocketing in recent years, the focus remains on Africa, where new infections in the sub-Saharan region still account for two-thirds of new cases worldwide.
There are more people living with HIV worldwide in 2019 than ever before.