European testing week starts on Friday. HIV has decreased more than any other cause of death in Europe. Between 2011 and 2016, deaths due to HIV dropped by nearly a third.
But even as the continent as a whole is making significant progress towards ending the disease, parts of eastern Europe are in the grip of a new epidemic.
In 2016, 1.07 per 100,000 inhabitants died from HIV-related causes in Vidurio ir vakaru Lietuvos regionas. The rate translates to about 22 deaths, which is somewhat higher than the European average.
Vidurio ir vakaru Lietuvos regionas is a statistical division used by the EU, a “NUTS region”. It is made up of Tauragė County, Telšiai County, Marijampolė County, Klaipėda County, Alytus County, Utena County, Panevėžys County, Kaunas County, and Šiauliai County.
The highest rates of deaths due to HIV can be found in the Iberian Peninsula, the Baltic States and parts of Eastern Europe, but looking over time, these regions are on very different trajectories.
Portugal, which has long had some of Europe’s highest rates of HIV infections, now has some of the continent’s biggest declines in deaths due to the virus. The country’s response to its HIV crisis has been a success story, which the World Health Organization attributes to the country’s progressive drug policy, needle exchanges and a comprehensive prevention and treatment programme.
Similar decreases from high levels can be found in Spain and Estonia, and across Europe, deaths due to HIV have fallen by nearly a third in five years.
But at the same time, parts of eastern Europe, especially Romania, are in the grip of an HIV epidemic. Deaths are rising sharply, and approaching the highest levels in Europe.
In Bucharest, the Romanian capital, deaths due to HIV have increased from a rate of 1.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 to 3.76 per 100,000 in 2016, an increase of over 150%.
The rate of HIV among intravenous drug users in Bucharest is up from 1% in 2007 to 53% in 2012, and people who inject drugs now make up a quarter of all infections.
There is a gender difference in deaths due to HIV. Across the EU, HIV skews heavily male with men 60% more likely to die of HIV-related causes. This trend has strengthened over the last five years.
Lithuania has an especially high gender divide. Men were about five times more likely to die of HIV-related causes than women in 2016.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control describes the overall development in Europe as “substantial progress” towards ending the epidemic by 2030, and reaching the United Nations’ 90-90-90 goal, where 90% of infections are diagnosed, 90% of diagnosed infections treated and 90% of patients receiving treatment non-transmissible.
At the same time, the same report describes developments in eastern Europe as “concerning”.
Text, research and charts:: Clara Guibourg, email@example.com
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