Four Key Challenges For HIV
Ten years ago one million people in the European Region lived with HIV, but now more than 2.4 million are estimated to be infected, and the number is rising. Around half of those people are not aware that they are infected. The percentage varies greatly from country to country but no country knows exactly how many infected people it has within its borders.
This means that it is difficult for the health system to offer appropriate medical treatment. For HIV combination therapy to work, it is best started at a time when the patient is still well and continue throughout the patient's life; unfortunately, many Europeans with HIV start treatment too late and already show signs of widespread immune system damage. This is the primary reason why HIV is still a cause of excess mortality in Western Europe.
Access to life-saving combination therapy is inadequate in a number of eastern European countries with the result that the patients who need the therapy, do not actually get it. Lack of access to treatment also reduces the incentive to get tested because the individual will think there is nothing to be gained from being tested. At the same time, being diagnosed with HIV exposes them to significant discrimination and stigmatization.
Tuberculosis remains widespread in eastern Europe. The risk of developing TB is far greater for people living with HIV if the HIV infection is not treated. For this reason, it is to be expected that the incidence of TB will continue to rise in eastern Europe.
The hepatitis C virus has already infected a large number of HIV-positive persons. More than half of the estimated 2.4 million people living with HIV are also chronically infected with HCV. Infection with both HIV and hepatitis C can lead to life-threatening liver failure. Hepatitis is difficult to treat, and this situation will lead to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths in the years to come.
What can be done?
HIV is a chronic problem, so solutions must be long-term. The main components of the solution are: