Europe’s HIV epidemic timebomb as patients being diagnosed ‘too late’

The entire continent of Europe is facing an HIV epidemic timebomb with thousands of women being diagnosed too late.

Women have accounted for one-third of the 141,000 new HIV diagnosis in the region in 2018, new data has revealed.

And of this figure, 54% of the women have been diagnosed late.

Meanwhile women in their 40s are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed late than younger women.

Two-thirds (60%) of the HIV diagnoses among women in 2018 were in the age group 30–49 years old.

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The shock findings have been made in data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the WHO (World Health Organisation) Regional Office for Europe.

It found that heterosexual sex was the most commonly reported HIV transmission mode (92%) among women in the Region.

It blamed the late diagnosis on “partly a result of relatively low HIV testing coverage and uptake in the Region”, which is “an indication that sexual risks, including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, are not being adequately addressed with older adults”.

Dr Piroska Östlin, WHO Regional Director for Europe ad interim, said: “Late diagnosis in women indicates that gender-sensitive counselling and testing, including information about sexual health, is not reaching this population.

“It’s time to end the silence about sexual health, especially when it comes to HIV, and ensure that women are well informed and enabled to protect themselves.

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“If we are to achieve universal health coverage, we need to improve prevention, treatment and care for women and reduce missed opportunities for testing those vulnerable to HIV in health facilities and in the community.”

Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Too many people living with HIV are still not aware of their status.

“The sooner women and men know of their HIV status, the sooner they can be put on antiretroviral treatment and halt transmission of HIV sexually.

“This makes a major difference in the lives of people living with HIV and those around them.

“It is all the more important, therefore, for public health services to support easy access to testing and fast linkage to care, especially for those at risk of HIV, in order to bring people faster to the stage where they are no longer infectious.

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“We must all ramp up our efforts to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic in order to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of ECDC, added: “Across Europe, women are generally diagnosed later than men and the older they get, the longer they live with undiagnosed HIV.

“We need to better understand how and where the current systems are failing so that we can improve HIV testing efforts for women and older adults adequately.

“Diversifying and complementing testing opportunities is probably the best strategy to reach older adults.

“One of the most significant factors that influences testing patterns among older adults is quite simple: actively offer an HIV test as health service provider.”

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