HIV Epidemic Could Return, This Time on a Global Scale


HIV infections are rising in 50 countries, with some regions seeing up to a 30-percent increase in the disease since 2010, especially in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“In Eastern Europe and Central Asia new infections have increased 30 percent since 2010,” International AIDS Society president Linda-Gail Bekker told AFP.

Total infections worldwide are down 18 percent from 2010 to 2017, but that decline might be slowing with extreme growth in certain regions, according to a July 18 press release from UNAIDS.

In the Middle East and North Africa, infections are increasing by over 25 percent, according to the UNAIDS press release.

UNAIDS is unlikely to meet its 2020 disease reduction targets, according to the AFP report.

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The 2020 goal is fewer than 500,000 new cases per year. About 1.8 million people were diagnosed with HIV in 2017, according to UNAIDS.

“Close to half — more than 45 percent of all new HIV infections in the world are in … the most affected and hard to reach groups, and that of course includes people who use drugs,” Chris Beyrer, director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at John Hopkins University, told AFP.

Gains for children affected by AIDS are also slowing. There were about 180,000 children born with HIV in 2017, according to UNAIDS. UNAIDS’s 2020 goal is fewer than 40,00 children.

A possible reason why HIV is increasing in the Middle East is that people are unaware of their diagnosis — and therefore can spread it without knowing. Of people living with HIV in the Middle East, only 58 percent knew they had the disease in 2016, according to an April report from Avert.

Of the 58 percent who knew they had HIV, only 41 percent were receiving treatment.

Another reason HIV might be up in the Middle East is the concentration of injectable drugs in the region.

The majority of heroin is produced in Afghanistan, and the drug is trafficked through Iran and Pakistan — meaning it is in its purest, cheapest and most addictive form, the Avert report states.

Only four out of 23 countries in the Middle East and North Africa had effective HIV monitoring systems — so rates of new infections might be higher than data shows, according to Avert.

Eastern Europe’s HIV spike is mainly in Russia and Ukraine. Eight out of 10 new HIV infections in the region are from Russia, according to a March Avert report.

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Only 71 percent of infected patients in Eastern Europe know they are infected, it stated.

The majority of infections in Eastern Europe come from using contaminated injectable drugs, 51 percent in 2014 according to Avert. Homosexual sex only accounted for 6 percent of new cases of HIV in 2014.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia have an incredibly high rate of injectable drug use. One out of every four injectable drug users worldwide lives in the region, according to the Avert report.

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