Tag Archives: Eastern Europe

World Health Organisation records highest-ever number of new HIV cases in Europe

by Tom Robson

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday that in 2014 it had recorded the highest number of new HIV cases in its European Region, which also includes Central Asia, since the start of reporting in the 1980s.

Story via Reuters
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WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a statement that more than 142,000 people in WHO’s European Region were diagnosed with HIV last year with the increase coming from its eastern sector which comprises 15 countries including Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia.

The statement followed publication on Tuesday of findings by the United Nations AIDS programme which showed that new HIV infections overall had fallen by 35 percent since the peak of the three-decade-old pandemic in 2000.

“Heterosexual transmission is responsible for the increase in eastern Europe, and transmission through drug injection remains substantial,” the joint statement by the WHO and ECDC said.

ECDC spokeswoman Caroline Daamen said “eastern Europe” referred to the eastern part of WHO’s European Region, where the organisations said the number of new HIV cases had more than doubled in the past decade.

Apart from Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia, this region also includes countries of the Transcaucasus.

“In the EU and the EEA, sex between men is the predominant mode of HIV transmission. Two in three new HIV infections are among native-born Europeans,” the organisations said.

In the European Union generally, the number of people diagnosed with HIV was roughly unchanged over the past decade, ECDC’s Daamen said.

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AIDS: Don’t Die of Prejudice!

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Eighteen million people around the world live with HIV but do not know they are infected. Endangering both themselves and countless others, they represent a public health challenge that affects not only Africa but every part of the world, including Europe and the United States. We stand at a tipping point in the AIDS crisis – and unless we can increase the numbers tested and treated, we will not defeat it. In spite of the progress since the 1980s there are still over 1.5 million deaths and over 2 million new HIV infections a year.

Former Health Secretary Lord Fowler has travelled to nine cities around the globe to report on the position today. What he discovered was a shocking blend of ignorance, prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. In Africa and Eastern Europe, a rising tide of discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals prevents many from coming forward for testing. In Russia, drug users are dying because an intolerant government refuses to introduce the policies that would save them. Extraordinarily, Washington has followed suit and excluded financial help for proven policies on drugs, and has turned its back on sex workers.

Norman Fowler started his career as a journalist at The Times and for over thirty years was an elected MP, serving in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet before becoming Chairman of the Conservative Party under John Major. He joined the House of Lords in 2001. He is the longest-serving British Health Secretary since the Second World War, and has devoted much of his life to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Aids cover 2.inddIn his new book “AIDS: Don’t die of Prejudice” Norman Fowler reveals the steps that must be taken to prevent a global tragedy. Aids: Don’t Die of Prejudice is a lucid yet powerful account, both an in-depth investigation and an impassioned call to arms against the greatest public health threat in the world today.

 

We ordered a couple of copies which arrived today, our staff will share and read this book and in a couple of weeks, I’ll ask them what they thought of it and gather their opinions for you to read.  If you own your own copy (Amazon Link) we’d like to hear your views, let us know in the comments..

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Should the “New” Russian HIV Strain Cause Concern?

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There has been a lot of play in the press recently about a “new and more virulent strain of HIV” (Daily Mail, Oct. 17) that appears to be spreading quickly in parts of Russia and Central Asia.

According to the epidemiological reports, this new recombinant form of HIV-1 — called 02_AG/A — is spreading at a faster rate than the dominant subtype, HIV-1 A. Moreover, the prevalence rate in some parts of Siberia have spiked by as much as 700% in the past five years, with nearly one out of every 180 persons infected.

Of these, 50% can be attributed to 02_AG/A.

What’s causing the most concern among global health officials is the fact that Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the two areas in the world where HIV infections are actively increasing.

The question is whether this “new” HIV strain is the cause of the increase. Is it as virulent as some are claiming, or are there other factors playing a key role (e.g., social, behavioral)?

Looking at the epidemic up-close, injection drug users and their sexual partners still remain the major drivers for the epidemic in the majority of Russian regions. A steady drug trade from Central Asia through the western borders of Russia — combined with increases in migratory labor and international travel — have likely contributed to the genetic diversity in the regional HIV pool.  Over time, this gave rise a recombinant form of HIV that appears to be more “fit” than other forms of HIV, allowing it to predominate.

But does this, in and of itself, mean that 02_AG/A is a “meaner, scarier” version of HIV, able to infect more easily than other HIV strains?

In truth, the fact that it has spread so quickly, taking a leading position in some regions, does warrant concern. One study conducted by the New York University School of Medicine suggests that 02_AG/A is able to replicate nearly 1.5 times faster than parental subtype A. Simply put, the replication rate may allow the virus to “build traction” more quickly in an effected host, far in advance of an immune response.

But what all of this doesn’t suggest is that 02-AG/A is any more or less deadly than other forms of HIV. In fact, a four-year study by the University of Montepelier in France showed that the 02_AG strain (which predominates in Cameroon and West-Central Africa) does not differ from other forms of HIV in the region, either in terms of survival, disease progression, or CD4 cell decline.

However, none of this can downplay the fact that, unless Russian health authorities act now, the spread of 02_AG/A may thwart any effort to stave the alarming HIV infection rates in the region… or the spread the virus to other regions and continents.

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