HIV infections up by 8% across Europe. More testing and better treatment coverage recommended

Copenhagen and Stockholm, 27 November 2013

According to new data issued today by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO/Europe, more than 131 000 new HIV infections were reported in the WHO European Region in 2012: 10 000 (8%) more than in 2011. This confirms a steady increase across the Region over that year: a 9% rise in countries in eastern Europe and central Asia (EECA) and a less than 1%  rise in countries in the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA).

Of the new HIV infections in the Region, almost 102 000 were reported in the EECA and over 29 000 in the EU/EEA. The total number includes more than 55 000 newly diagnosed HIV infections in 2012 reported to ECDC and WHO, and nearly 76 000 new cases recorded by the Federal Statistics Agency of the Russian Federation through its database.

While reported AIDS cases showed a steady decline of 48% in the EU/EEA, the number of people newly diagnosed with AIDS increased by 113% in the eastern part of the Region between 2006 and 2012. This increase is closely linked to the low coverage of prevention measures and of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Although the number of people in need who received ART increased considerably from 2011 to 2012, they represent only one in three people in need.

“We know that providing antiretroviral therapy earlier will allow people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives, and will reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “While the HIV epidemic in Europe has not ended, our goal of halting and reversing the spread of HIV by 2015 is still achievable in many countries.” To support work towards that goal, WHO recently published new consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs to treat and prevent HIV infection.

“Our data show that nearly every second person tested positive for HIV in the EU/EEA – that’s 49% – is diagnosed late in the course of their infection, which means they need antiretroviral therapy right away because their immune system is already starting to fail,” highlights ECDC Director Marc Sprenger. “This shows that we need to make HIV testing more available across Europe to ensure earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment and care.” ECDC’s guidance on HIV testing helps countries identify HIV infections early: it provides key information on why, where, how and when to test for HIV.

Both directors agree that the joint surveillance report provides valuable evidence of the need for accelerated action against HIV across the Region.

Notes to editors

  • WHO introduced World AIDS Day in 1988; it is observed annually on 1 December to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by HIV infection.
  • HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and causes lifelong severe illness with a long incubation period. AIDS, the end-stage of an untreated infection, results from the destruction of the immune system. AIDS is defined by the presence of one or more opportunistic illnesses (due to decreased immunity).
  • The WHO European Region comprises 53 countries, with a population of nearly 900 million people, of which around 508 million live in the EU/EEA (28 EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).
  • The new WHO guidelines to increase treatment coverage call on all countries to start treatment in adults living with HIV when their CD4 cell count falls to or below 500 cells/mm³: when their immune systems are still strong. (The 2010 WHO guidelines recommended offering treatment at or below 350 CD4 cells/mm³.). Implementation of the new guidelines will result in more people receiving ART in the Region, especially in eastern countries where ART coverage rates are lower. Increasing the number of people on ART will lead to a reduction in AIDS-related mortality and prevent further transmission of HIV infection.
  • ECDC’s guidance on HIV testing aims to encourage national strategies in EU Member States to adopt a strategic, evidence-based approach to develop and implement effective HIV-testing procedures.
  • Further information is available from both WHO and ECDC.

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