By Anna Lawson, EU Policy, Community and Advocacy Lead
Health officials recently released data that reports the highest number of new HIV infections in Europe last year since reporting began in the 1980s. More than 142,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in Europe last year, according to the most recent surveillance report published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization. While the rate of increase of HIV diagnosis has remained generally stable for the populations as a whole in the European Union since 2004, this lack of increase disguises a major shift in the epidemic.National and country-level data shows that HIV continues to pose a serious public health threat in Europe.
The report shows that the HIV epidemic in Europe varies greatly across countries, within countries and across different segments of the population. According to the ECDC, since 2004, the rates of new diagnoses have more than doubled in some EU and EEA countries and decreased by 25% in others1. Men who have sex with men (MSM) is still the predominant mode of HIV transmission in the EU and EEA, with heterosexual transmission the main mode of transmission in the East of the region1. In particular, late HIV diagnosis, delayed initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART), and low treatment coverage, makes clear that there remains a big task in maintaining an effective response to HIV and ensuring that no person living with HIV is left behind.
The ECDC indicates that the growth of the HIV epidemic is driven by the Eastern Region in Europe, where the number of new diagnoses has more than doubled during the past decade1. Almost half of HIV infections throughout the European Region are diagnosed late and antiretroviral coverage has fallen as low as 25%, compared with 44% in sub-Saharan Africa. In Central and Eastern Europe estimated suppression rates are much lower - 19% in Estonia, 20% in Georgia and 25% in Russia.
Through the latest findings in the report, stakeholders are called upon to work towards achieving the UNAIDS 90/90/90 goals by 2020. Strengthening the status of HIV as a priority therapy area and translating this into appropriate funding levels, providing improved testing and universal access to treatment requires a concerted and pro-active approach from all stakeholders.
Policy makers should consult with all relevant groups, including Pharma, to set up the most appropriate health infrastructure to support testing, treatment and care in an environment free from stigma and discrimination.
As a specialist HIV company dedicated to investment in research and development of new medicines and treatment strategies to deliver advances in treatment, ViiV Healthcare plays a key role in the ongoing fight against HIV. By working in conjunction with key stakeholders, we can achieve better outcomes for people impacted by the disease in Europe through sharing expertise and synergy of partnerships, by working together to create a responsive, innovative R&D environment, and to help ensure that the testing, treatment and care continuum supports people living with HIV to lead healthy and full lives.
The role of community-based organisations and networks of people living with HIV has long been recognised as important in the response to HIV. Our Policy, Community and Advocacy Network (PCAN) in Europe supports programmes implemented by HIV organisations at the country and European level, that meet the challenges and needs of people living with HIV and target high-risk populations, including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, migrants, prisoners and sex workers. In 2015, ViiV Healthcare launched the Positive Action Europe (PAE) programme. Five of the seven PAE grants in 2015 went to organisations that aim to increase testing rates, improve retention in care and increase access to HIV treatment.
As a company, we are committed to ensuring that HIV continues to be recognised as a priority area in all national health agendas, which will ensure all patients in Europe have access to relevant testing, treatment and care infrastructures and interventions. Policy-influencers, policymakers and payers, including national-level parliamentarians have an important role to play and must be engaged alongside community groups, advocates, industry organisations and healthcare professionals in order to enable appropriate investment and infrastructure set up in HIV diagnosis, treatment, and care ensuring that the 90/90/90 UNAIDS goals become a reality.