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Britain's Prince Harry gives an HIV self-test kit to a local resident during his visit to the opening of the Terrence Higgins Trust charity's HIV self-test pop-up shop in Hackney, east London, to launch National HIV Testing Week, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
Health

Europe Just Had Its Highest Number of HIV Diagnoses — Ever

The global fight against HIV is still an uphill battle, and new data from the World Health Organization shows that in one part of the world, the battle isn’t close to being won.

New HIV infections in Europe reached their highest rate ever in 2016, according to a new report by the WHO.

There were 160,000 people in Europe’s 53 countries who were diagnosed as HIV-positive for the first time last year, the highest number since record-keeping began.

The majority of those people — 80%— live in Eastern Europe, and more than half of the individuals were HIV-positive for years before being diagnosed, which means the disease could have spread even further, according to the WHO’s new report.

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“The HIV epidemic continues to rise at an alarming pace in the European Region,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s European regional director, said in a statement.

The number of people with HIV in Europe is now over 2 million, according to the organization.

Europe as a whole has seen its new HIV infections increase 52% over the past decade, a startling trend in a time when testing, prevention, and treatment are improving.

Health officials called on European leaders to increase the reach of HIV testing services.

“Testing people late, particularly those at higher risk of infection, results in late treatment and further contributes to the ongoing spread of HIV. The later people are diagnosed, the more likely they are to develop AIDS, thus leading to more suffering and death. On World AIDS Day, I urge all countries to take action now to reverse the HIV epidemic in Europe.”

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While many individuals are waiting years before being tested and diagnosed, many others in high risk pools are not accessing new developments in prevention, like PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, which can prevent HIV transmission during sex. A separate study released earlier this month found that only about 10% of men who have sex with men in European countries reported using PrEP. The number was higher in some places — 17% in Ukraine, 16% in Turkey, and 11% in France — but lower in other countries, including Russia (8%).

Men who responded to the survey, distributed via the hookup app Hornet by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said that the cost of PrEP was the main deterrent to using it.

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Europe’s uptick in HIV cases is concerning, as the world struggles to contain and end the spread of AIDS. The continent with the highest HIV rates in the world remains in Africa, where access to testing and treatment is still limited for many people living in poverty and in rural areas.

Global Citizen campaigns to increase access to healthcare for people around the world and to eradicate epidemics by 2030 so that all individuals have a chance to lead healthy, happy lives.

“If this trend persists, we will not be able to achieve the ... target of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030,” Jakab said in the WHO’s statement on the news.

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