November 28, 2018 / 12:19 AM / 21 days ago

New cases of HIV rise in Eastern Europe, decline in the West

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 130,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV last year in Eastern Europe, the highest rate ever for the region, while the number of new cases in Western Europe declined, global public health experts said on Wednesday.

European Union and European Economic Area countries saw a reduction in 2017 rates, mainly driven by a 20 percent drop since 2015 among men who have sex with men. That left Europe’s overall increasing trend less steep than previously.

All told, almost 160,000 people were diagnosed in Europe with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional office for Europe.

“It’s hard to talk about good news in the face of another year of unacceptably high numbers of people infected with HIV,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the WHO regional office. Calling on governments and health officials to recognise the seriousness of the situation, she urged them: “Scale up your response now.”

The United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS warned in July that complacency was starting to stall the fight against the global epidemic, with the pace of progress not matching what is needed. Some 37 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.

The WHO’s European Region is made up of 53 countries with a combined population of nearly 900 million. Around 508 million of those live in the 28 member states of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

The joint report said one reason for the persistence of HIV in Europe is that many people infected with the virus are diagnosed late, meaning they are more likely to have already passed it on and are also at an advanced stage of infection.

It also found that in the European region, men suffer disproportionately from HIV, with 70 percent of new HIV cases diagnosed in 2017 occurring in men.

Since the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, more than 77 million people worldwide have become infected with HIV. Almost half of them - 35.4 million - have died of AIDS.

Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Larry King

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