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Number of New HIV Cases in European Union Nearly Double Since 1999, Report Says

November 26, 2007

The number of new HIV cases recorded in European Union countries has nearly doubled from 28.8 cases per one million residents in 1999 to 57.5 cases per one million residents in 2006, according to a report released on Friday by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, BBC News reports. More than 50% of cases are through heterosexual transmission, although men who have sex with men are at higher risk of infection, ECDC said (BBC News, 11/23). The EuroHIV data, published in ECDC's journal Eurosurveillance, found that in 2006, a total of 86,912 new HIV cases were reported across 50 of the 53 countries of the World Health Organization European Region. A total of 26,220 cases, or 30%, reported in E.U. countries, according to the data. The average rate of new HIV diagnosis across Europe is about 111 cases per one million residents, and the rate among countries in the European Union is 67 cases per one million residents (ECDC release, 11/23).

According to the report, the number of HIV cases is continuing to rise in non-E.U. areas of Europe, with 288 cases per one million residents in Ukraine and 275 cases per one million residents in Russia (BBC News, 11/23). The data indicate that former Soviet countries had the highest number of new HIV cases in 2006, primarily because of drug use, Reuters reports. Former Soviet countries reported 59,866 new HIV cases in 2006, which is more than all of the new cases in Western and Central Europe combined (Reuters, 11/23).

According to the report, Estonia had the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in Europe in 2006, with 504 cases per one million residents, followed by Portugal, the United Kingdom, Latvia and Luxembourg. The Estonian government said 90% of new HIV cases diagnosed by testing clinics in 2001 involved injection drug users, but that proportion dropped to below half by the end of last year. The data suggests that the virus has begun spreading from IDUs to their sexual partners, BBC News reports.

Slovakia reported the lowest rate of new HIV cases in the European Union, with five cases per one million residents, followed by Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. According to BBC News, the figures come as the U.K. Health Protection Agency estimated that 73,000 adults in the United Kingdom are HIV-positive.

ECDC Director Zsuzsanna Jakab said the true European figures likely are much higher than estimated, adding that almost one-third of people living with HIV in Europe are unaware of their status. "These people are less likely to take precautions against transmitting the virus and are also unable to access treatment," Jakab said, adding that "addressing this hidden epidemic is a priority for the ECDC" (BBC News, 11/23).

Jakab also said that ECDC is "supportive of the work being done by the Estonian government to reverse the trend of increasing HIV infection rates," adding that she has "pledged to support Estonia's "ambitious long-term plan for 2006-2015" to fight HIV/AIDS, which includes new initiatives on surveillance, prevention and treatment (ECDC release, 11/23). Kristi Ruutli, spokesperson for Estonia National Institute for Health Development, said that HIV is spreading among young, male IDUs, commercial sex workers and increasingly through heterosexual contact, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 11/23).

ECDC spokesperson Ben Duncan said in Western European countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, one of the main drivers of new cases was people migrating from HIV-endemic parts of the world. "Another big driver has been the increase in cases among" MSM, Duncan said, adding "Clearly, our prevention efforts are not having the desired effect -- the safe sex message doesn't seem to be having the impact we would hope" (BBC News, 11/23).

Online The report is available online.

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