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Home » EU Health, Health, Healthcare Policy, HIV/ AIDS

EU institutions should engage more politically to induce change in HIV awareness

Submitted by on 14 Jul 2017 – 10:30

Nearly 122,000 are unaware of their HIV infection in Europe. To decrease the number of people who are diagnosed late or are unaware of their infection, new strategies are required to expand targeted HIV testing services.  Alfred Sant MEP, Head of the Malta S&D Delegation in the European Parliament, lists out what needs to be done to make it easier for the undiagnosed

During 2015, almost 30,000 newly diagnosed HIV infections have been reported by the  European Union and European Economic Area countries. This is similar to the observed notification trends in the last decade. This high incidence of infection confirms the persistence of the HIV epidemic in our societies.

Yet this is not the complete picture.

The estimate is that there are some 122, 000 people living with HIV across our region who are unaware of their infection. They continue to transmit it to others. (1)

We need to encourage increased testing especially among key populations who are more at risk.  We must look at ways of encouraging more people to come forward for testing. It is still not easy for individuals to take the test. There is fear about the result, especially among high risk groups.

We have come a long way in the management of HIV. Effective treatment is now available. A positive result is no longer a death sentence but a path to lifelong treatment. In fact, today we talk of people living with HIV just as we talk of people living  with diabetes.

However, the stigma still persists. Many believe that HIV infection is a self-inflicted shame. We need to fight that stigma. Testing should be made accessible in various settings. It should come along with professional support before and after testing. The training of health professionals and people working with the youth and key populations should be enhanced.

People who test positive require complete support of a professional team including psychological support.  We should develop enhanced tests which are fast, reliable and affordable. On the other hand, the high cost of diagnostics remains a barrier to testing.

True, the massive expansion of antiretroviral therapies has reduced the global number of people dying from HIV-related causes.  Yet, prices continue to remain very high, placing a burden on the health authorities as they strive towards universal treatment and an end to the epidemic.

Nevertheless, countries need to live up to their commitment to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. That target is included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. There is no room for complacency.

Meanwhile, viral hepatitis is not mentioned much. Yet it could be emerging  as a larger public health issue than HIV. It remains a silent epidemic. Many living with viral hepatitis do not know that they are infected; placing them at greater risk for severe, even fatal, complications from the disease.

The two infectious diseases have many similarities by way of how they affect people, the strategies for control and the challenges faced by public health authorities.

All of us should spur the development of further concrete action to tackle the incidence of HIV and hepatitis, which remains a significant threat to the health of our citizens.

References:

1. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe 2016: ECDC. Available at http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications/Publications/HIV-AIDS-surveillance-Europe-2015.pdf