The HIV epidemic has continued to spread in Europe since 2004 despite advances in medical treatment and new prevention options. In 2013, more than 136 000 new HIV cases were diagnosed across Europe and Central Asia, according to the most recent data published today by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. This represents an 80% increase compared to 2004, when almost 76 000 new cases were diagnosed.
Of the new HIV infections in the Region in 2013, more than 105 000 were reported in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), over 29 000 in the European Union and the European Economic Area (EU/EEA) and some 2 000 in other non-EU countries. Compared to 2004, the EECA countries have seen a two-fold surge in new HIV cases, while the EU/EEA countries have not seen a decline in HIV diagnoses.
Europe has not managed to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, and time is running out. While we are increasingly facing emerging health threats, this reminds us that we cannot afford to drop our guard on HIV/AIDS, says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. In Eastern Europe, where 77% of all new infections were reported, two thirds of cases among injecting drug users were detected late. This means they are more likely to transmit HIV, their treatment is more expensive and they are more likely to die. New WHO guidelines are available for countries to focus on those at highest risk of HIV infection; they strongly endorse proven harm reduction interventions for people who inject drugs. By targeting action, we can still turn the tide.
The question is why we have not seen any significant progress in reducing HIV infections during the last decade. Looking at our data, we clearly see that across Europe the populations most at risk of HIV infection are not reached effectively enough, particularly men who have sex with men, explains ECDC Director Marc Sprenger. In the EU/EEA, sex between men is still the predominant mode of HIV transmission, which accounted for 42% of newly diagnosed HIV infections in 2013. Sprenger adds: The number of HIV diagnoses among this group has increased by 33% compared to 2004 “ and has been going up in all but four EU/EEA countries. This is why prevention and control of HIV among men who have sex with men has to be a cornerstone of national HIV programmes across Europe.
Both directors agree that in order to successfully curb the HIV epidemic in Europe, the response needs to be strengthened and tailored to each countrys specific needs.