Europe’s eastern region sees 108% increase in HIV infections in just 10 years

02 December 2016

A new report by the European Centres for Disease Control (ECDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) shows that prevention efforts are failing, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, as the number of people living with HIV in Europe reaches over 2 million for the first time.

WHO Europe regions map

More than 153,000 new HIV infections were recorded in Europe in 2015, the highest figure since records began in 1980. According to the 2015 HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe report, countries in the East (including Russia) saw rates of new infections increase by 108% in ten years, while rates increased by 133% in the Centre. Only in the West did new infections fall by 10% over the time period.  

Alarmingly, the number of AIDS cases in the East also increased by over 80% in ten years, compared to a 60% decline in cases in the West. In fact, every country in the East, save Estonia, recorded a rise in AIDS cases – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan all showing three-fold increases in the number of cases.

This worrying increase in the number of AIDS cases in the East also confirms that late HIV diagnosis, delayed initiation of antiretroviral treatment and low treatment coverage remain major challenges.
Of the 153,407 people diagnosed with HIV in 2015, 79% of these were in the East, 18% in the West and 3% in the Centre of the region. An astonishing 64% of all new HIV cases in the WHO European Region in 2015 were recorded in Russia; it also accounted for 81% of all new infections in the East of the region.

Across Europe, the dominant transmission routes vary according to geographical location. In the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA), the main route is sexual transmission between men. In the East, including Russia, heterosexual transmission accounts for 49% of all new HIV infections, and transmission through injecting drug use 34%. There is likely significant crossover between these two groups.

The EU/EEA estimates that 122,000 people in its area are infected with HIV but are not aware of their infection – that is 1 in every 7 people living with HIV in the EU/EEA.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe said: “Despite significant efforts, HIV remains among the main public health concerns in the WHO European Region, in particular in its eastern part.”

She continued, “To address this critical situation, we have made available a new action plan that all European countries endorsed in September 2016. We now call on countries’ leaders to use this plan for an urgent, accelerated and innovative response to HIV in the Region, to reverse the AIDS epidemics immediately and end it by 2030.”

Photo credit:
WHO Europe Regional Office (image adapted)

Written by Caitlin Mahon

Content Specialist - HIV & Sexual Health