HIV continues to be a major health concern in Europe

23 February 2015
An HIV ribbon

HIV remains a major health concern in the European Union (EU) and European Economic Areas (EEA), states last week’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) report, Annual epidemiological report, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and blood-borne viruses 2014.

The HIV epidemic in the EU/EEA is characterised by a significant number of new infections. In 2012, just over 29,000 people were newly infected with HIV in 29 EU/EEA countries, at a rate of 5.7 per 100.000 people, with a wide variance of HIV rates in different countries. In Estonia, the HIV rate is as high as 23.6 people per 100,000, whilst in Slovakia, the HIV rate is as low as 0.9 per 100,000 people. More worrying is the fact that that since 2008, HIV rates have doubled in Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania and in Romania.

HIV prevalence is 3.2 times higher among men than among women in the EU/EEA, with the highest rate of HIV observed among 25-44 years old. Transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM) accounts for the largest proportion (40 percent) of all reported new HIV cases in the EU/EEA in 2012. Between 2006 and 2012, an increase of 11 percent was seen among MSM, caused by a more than 100 percent increase in HIV transmission among MSM in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.

HIV infections among people who inject drugs (PWID) declined by 30 percent between 2006 and 2010, but increased again between 2011 and 2012. This increase is caused by an almost twenty-fold increase in reported in Greece and Romania. In most EU/EEA countries, the numbers of new HIV infections reported among PWID remains low or is decreasing. Although Greece and Romania demonstrate that this can change quickly, as the potential spread of HIV in vulnerable populations can be very rapid.

Half of the people infected with HIV in the EU/EEA are late presenters, meaning that their CD4 count is below <350 cells/mm3 when presenting to health care professionals. This is proof that coverage and uptake of testing is insufficient across many countries, meaning many people are not likely to benefit from the available treatment and care regimes.

The ECDC surveillance data shows that the HIV epidemic develops at difference paces across the EU/EEA countries. As the number of people living with HIV is steadily increasing, and mainly within key populations such as MSM, migrants and PWID, prevention measures for these specific groups in Europe should be scaled-up to ensure they do not drop of the radar.

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