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HIV and AIDS in Eastern Europe & Central Asia Overview

Undiagnosed HIV is on the rise in Eastern Europe, Central Asia: reports agencies.

  • In 2019 more than 136,000 cases of HIV were diagnosed across the WHO-monitored region.
  • Newly diagnosed cases increased by 19% over the last decade in the area.
  • Modes of transmission also varied across the region.

Introduction

The reporting of rising undiagnosed cases, mostly in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, has led the EU’s disease control agency and the WHO on Thursday to call for better HIV testing to spot these cases early.

Early identification of the virus that causes AIDS mitigates the effect on the patient and forestalls additional spread.

According to a release by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the regional office in Europe of World Health Organization (WHO), more than 136,000 cases of HIV were diagnosed across the WHO European region, with 80 percent of patients in its eastern parts in 2019.

The WHO’s European Region includes 53 countries and comprises Russia and several countries in Central Asia.

However, the report does not include data from member states Andorra, Belgium, Monaco, North Macedonia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is a virus that transmits between people in specific ways. However, there are many myths about HIV transmission, and it is essential to clear the air with real facts.

Identifying how HIV does and does not pass on helps prevent transmission and diminish the discrimination and stigma linked with HIV.

The number of new HIV cases diagnosed and the impact of the virus in the United States is declining thanks to effective preventive measures and treatments.

HIV is a virus that slowly and gradually weakens the body’s immune system. AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV when a person’s immune system is so vulnerable, and it can no longer defend against certain infections, such as pneumonia.

Anti-retroviral drugs (known as ARVs) help combat the virus, enabling people to live longer, healthier lives without rapidly declining their immune systems.

HIV/AIDS spreads through the exchange of body fluids (e.g., through sex, childbirth, etc.).

How can HIV transmit?

Mostly, people contract HIV through anal or vaginal sex. It can also spread through sharing drug injection equipment, such as needles or syringes.

HIV transmits through certain body fluids such as:

  • blood
  • seminal fluid
  • vaginal fluids
  • rectal fluids
  • breast milk

Blood carries more of the virus than other bodily fluids. The highest risk is exposure to blood, that contains the virus.

However, it is essential to note that HIV does not pass on through all contact with fluids containing the virus. For transmission to occur, the fluid must contact damaged tissue, the bloodstream, or mucous membranes, such as those in the genitals, rectum, or mouth.

If the blood that contains HIV comes into direct contact with another person’s bloodstream, such as through an injection with a shared needle, this is very likely to transmit the virus.

HIV can transmit to a baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. However, this is less common due to modern preventive measures and treatments.

Reducing the risk:

A range of practical strategies can now lower the risk of contracting HIV. These include:

  • using PrEP, a preventive drug
  • never sharing needles with another person
  • using condoms during sex
  • getting frequent HIV testing for people with multiple sexual partners
  • using gloves and other sterile equipment in medical settings
  • taking emergency post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)after possible exposure to the virus

When a person takes PrEP daily, it reduces the risk of contracting HIV via sex by about 99% and via needles by about 74%.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its guidelines in 2019. They now recommend that only people who have recently received negative results from HIV screening be candidates for PrEP. People who have a high risk of vulnerability to the virus should take PrEP once a day.

People with HIV who are pregnant or plan to be should discuss ways to mitigate the risk of transmission with their doctors, including the choice of whether to breastfeed.

HIV cases in the U.S. has declined by more than two-thirds since the mid-1980s. This decline has been possible due to advances in prevention and treatment.

Improvement in testing techniques is needed.

Around 50% of the European HIV cases were diagnosed at a late phase of the disease, “when the immune system has already weakened,” the agencies stated, calling it “a sign that testing techniques in the locale are not working appropriately to analyze HIV early.”

The report stated that delayed diagnosis enhanced the risk of “ill health, death, and onward HIV transmission” and asked for new strategies to improve and promote testing. The authors of the report added that late diagnosis increased the prospect of “ill health, death, and onward HIV transmission” and called for new strategies to improve testing.

Covid-19 and HIV

Andrea Ammon, currently serving as the ECDC director, said in a statement that “Despite the focus on COVID-19 presently, we must not lose our focus on other public health issues like HIV. Early diagnosis of HIV is an urgent priority.”

The report noted that “newly diagnosed cases in the region increased by 19 percent over the last decade,” and “the number of people living in the region with undiagnosed HIV is increasing.”

On the other hand, in the areas covered by the ECDC—which includes the EU and Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway—the number of new yearly diagnoses instead declined by nine percent. Also, the proportion of those living with undiagnosed HIV decreased.

How is HIV spreading in these regions?

The primary mode of disease spread also differed across the region, with sexual transmission between men being the most common in the ECDC’s area. Simultaneously, heterosexual sex and intravenous drug use were the most common modes in the WHO’s eastern region.

The report listed those countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

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