Overview of HIV and AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, excluding information about the sources providing data.


Overview of HIV and AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, excluding information about the sources providing data.

Undiagnosed HIV Cases Increasing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

In 2019, the number of diagnosed HIV cases in the WHO-monitored region exceeded 136,000, with a 19% increase over the past decade. The modes of transmission varied across the region.

Introduction

Rising undiagnosed cases of HIV in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia have prompted the EU’s disease control agency and the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for improved HIV testing to detect these cases early. Early identification of the virus is crucial in minimizing its impact on patients and preventing further spread.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO’s regional office in Europe, over 136,000 cases of HIV were diagnosed in the WHO European region in 2019, with 80% of patients located in the eastern parts. The WHO’s European Region includes 53 countries, including Russia and several Central Asian countries.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is a virus that is transmitted between people through specific ways. It is important to dispel myths about HIV transmission and provide accurate information to prevent transmission and reduce discrimination and stigma associated with HIV.

HIV gradually weakens the body’s immune system, leading to AIDS, which is the advanced stage of HIV. At this stage, a person’s immune system becomes highly vulnerable and unable to defend against certain infections.

Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) help combat the virus, allowing individuals to live longer and healthier lives without rapid immune system decline.

HIV/AIDS spreads through the exchange of body fluids, such as through sexual contact, childbirth, etc.

How Does HIV Transmit?

HIV is primarily transmitted through anal or vaginal sex and sharing drug injection equipment like needles or syringes. It can be transmitted through certain body fluids, including blood, seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. Blood carries a higher concentration of the virus, posing the highest risk of transmission.

It is important to note that HIV does not transmit through all contact with fluids containing the virus. Transmission occurs when the fluid comes into contact with damaged tissue, the bloodstream, or mucous membranes in the genitals, rectum, or mouth.

HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. However, modern preventive measures and treatments have significantly reduced this mode of transmission.

Reducing the Risk

Various practical strategies can help lower the risk of contracting HIV, including using preventive drugs like PrEP, never sharing needles, using condoms during sex, frequent HIV testing for individuals with multiple sexual partners, using sterile equipment in medical settings, and taking emergency post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) after potential exposure to the virus.

When taken daily, PrEP reduces the risk of HIV transmission through sex by about 99% and through needles by about 74%. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends PrEP for individuals who have recently tested negative for HIV and have a high risk of exposure to the virus.

People with HIV who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should discuss ways to reduce the risk of transmission with their doctors, including the decision to breastfeed.

The number of HIV cases in the U.S. has declined significantly due to advances in prevention and treatment.

Improvement in Testing Techniques Needed

Around 50% of European HIV cases are diagnosed at a late stage of the disease, indicating that testing techniques in the region are not effectively identifying HIV early. Delayed diagnosis increases the risk of ill health, death, and onward HIV transmission. The report calls for new strategies to improve and promote testing.

COVID-19 and HIV

Despite the current focus on COVID-19, it is crucial not to overlook other public health issues like HIV. Early diagnosis of HIV remains an urgent priority. The report highlights a 19% increase in newly diagnosed cases in the region over the past decade, with a growing number of undiagnosed HIV cases.

In the areas covered by the ECDC, which includes the EU and Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway, the number of new yearly diagnoses has declined by 9%, and the proportion of undiagnosed HIV cases has decreased.

How is HIV Spreading in These Regions?

The primary mode of disease transmission varies across the region. Sexual transmission between men is most common in the ECDC’s area, while heterosexual sex and intravenous

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