European HIV-Hepatitis Testing Week 2017: tackling late diagnosis

This year, the theme of European Testing Week, 17–24 November, is aligned with World AIDS Day in raising awareness on the issue of late diagnosis of HIV infection. In the eastern part of the WHO European Region, 1 in 3 people are unaware of their HIV status. In the rest of the Region, the figure stands at 1 in 7.

European Testing Week advocates for both HIV and hepatitis testing. In the Region, about 15 million people live with chronic hepatitis B and 14 million people are infected with hepatitis C virus. As the infection often remains asymptomatic for decades, most people who have contracted the disease live unaware of the infection until severe complications develop.

Early testing for improved treatment outcomes

Early detection is key in the prevention and treatment of HIV and hepatitis B and C.

For HIV, early detection ensures the infected individuals benefit from early antiretroviral therapy, which increases health benefits and prevents onward HIV transmission; it also allows them to take informed decisions about using a range of HIV prevention options.

Innovative HIV testing methods are being increasingly introduced to accelerate countries’ responses to the HIV epidemic. In particular, WHO recommends the introduction of HIV self-testing. This method, which can be conducted by individuals, is especially important to allow at-risk groups access to testing, while at the same time ensuring confidentiality.

For hepatitis B and C infection, testing is the gateway to prevention and treatment services. Early identification of the infection ensures people receive the care and treatment they need to prevent or delay progression of liver disease, and reduce further transmission.

WHO recommendations for improved access to testing and integrated approaches

In most countries in the Region, HIV testing services for those at risk are inadequate, and access to HIV and viral hepatitis prevention, treatment and care services is limited. WHO therefore recommends that countries prioritize, fund and support an acceptable level of services; they should remove health, social and legal barriers that currently prevent equitable access to HIV and viral hepatitis testing services.

WHO strongly supports integrated approaches in prevention, testing and care for people living with HIV and viral hepatitis. Many success stories of such an approach have been promoted as part of European Testing Week.

European Testing Week

The goal of European Testing Week is to raise awareness of the benefits of HIV and hepatitis testing, thus contributing to earlier diagnosis and access to treatment and health-care services. The campaign has taken place in most European countries since 2013.

This year, over 650 organizations and individuals have already pledged their support. WHO supports countries across the Region to join this initiative and encourages them to provide information on HIV and hepatitis B and C diagnostic approaches and to test people through community-based initiatives.