AIDS, 1 in 10 people in the EU are HIV-positive and don’t know it

Ammon (ECDC): “We can and must do more”. WHO-ECDC report: “In 2022 +4.2% diagnoses, half of them late”

One in 10 European citizens is HIV positive and doesn’t know it and this leads to the continued spread of HIV. This is the alarm launched by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) commenting on the data of the report published together with WHO Europe in view of World AIDS Day on 1 December.

More than one in 10 people living with HIV in the European Union/European Economic Area are still unaware of their statuswhich contributes to the late diagnoses we are witnessing, the worse results” in treatment “and the continued spread of HIV”, underlines ECDC director Andrea Ammon.

The increase in HIV diagnoses recorded last year, equal to +4.2% in the WHO European region – he explains – “might seem like a negative thing”, but “it is proof that we are going in the right direction – Ammon highlights – with many people living with HIV better able to access testing, treatment and support services. But we can and must do more“, urges the number one of the ECDC.

The report: 110 thousand HIV diagnoses in 2022 (+4.2%), over half late

In 2022, 110,486 HIV diagnoses were recorded in the European region of the World Health Organization, of which 22,995 in the European Union/European Economic Area, which brought the total number of people known to be positive for the HIV virus to over 2.4 million. ‘Aids. Improved access to testing has resulted in an increase in HIV diagnoses of +4.2%, with 37 out of 49 countries reporting rising numbers and several nations reporting the highest numbers ever recorded in a single year, emerges from the report published by WHO Europe and ECDC. “Throughout Europe – we read – over half of HIV diagnoses arrive too latewith a CD4 lymphocyte count of less than 350 cells/mm3, indicating an urgent need to understand what makes people unable or unwilling to access testing and timely treatment.”

Among the factors that contributed to the increase in HIV diagnoses in 2022, WHO Europe and ECDC cite “the resumption of normal testing activities after the Covid-19 pandemic, expanded and targeted testing services, the implementation of new strategies of tests”. However, “although progress has been made in the fight against HIV in the European region”, for health authorities “significant challenges remain in the identification and treatment of cases, as well as in preventing the infection in the first place”.

WHO and ECDC are therefore launching a “urgent call to action“, which is “a critical action” aimed at “expanding access to HIV testing and treatment, together with recognizing and combating persistent stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking diagnosis and treatment “. All “fundamental steps to stop the increase in infection”. The two agencies confirm their “commitment to supporting the countries of the EU/EEA and the WHO European region in accelerating progress towards achieving the Development Goals sustainable for HIV. In close collaboration with partner organizations committed to reducing stigma, the focus will be on testing, treatment and prevention activities, as well as improving surveillance and monitoring through dedicated guidelines, workshops, webinars and technical support.”

Regional disparities and migration impact

The report released in view of World AIDS Day highlights regional disparities in the WHO European region, with 71.6% (79,144) of new diagnoses carried out in the Eastern area, compared to 20.3% in the West (22,397) and just 8.1% in the Center (8,945). In the eastern subregion, HIV testing and case identification have improved compared to the previous year – as noted by the World Health Organization and ECDC – reaching a greater number of undiagnosed people with treatments and care. Heterosexual intercourse remains the most commonly reported route of transmission in the eastern part of the region, although transmission through sex between men has increased significantly over the last 10 years. For health authorities, these regional variations highlight “the need to improve testing programs and address the barriers” that hinder diagnosis, including the stigma that “takes different forms” and affects “the whole of society”, even creeping into “all within the healthcare sector itself”.

The report shows that “the movement of people living with HIV in EU/EEA countries has also contributed to the increase in diagnoses. A notable 16.6% of diagnoses in the EU/EEA” can be traced back to “people arriving in these Countries with an existing diagnosis.This data indicates the need for prevention and testing services for migrants – suggest WHO Europe and ECDC – and a rapid connection to accessible treatment services for all people living with HIV in the region”.

“Robust surveillance, monitoring and evaluation strategies – warn the experts – play a crucial role in identifying and managing vulnerabilities within key populations, allowing health authorities to adapt their interventions to fill existing gaps and adapt interventions to changes observed on the ground, such as the notable increase in migration across the European region”.