Researchers: Data paints “worrying picture” on another pandemic

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FILE – In this Tuesday, March 9, 2021 file photo, Solutions Oriented Addiction Response organizer Brooke Parker holds an HIV testing kit in Charleston, W.Va. The nonprofit group operates health fairs for residents, including syringe exchanges and HIV testing. Some researchers believe COVID-19 has derailed the fight against HIV, siphoning away health workers and other resources and setting back a U.S. campaign to decimate the AIDS epidemic by 2030. (AP Photo/John Raby)

BOSTON (SHNS) – To mark World AIDS Day, public health officials in Europe on Tuesday released survey results showing a 24 percent drop in newly diagnosed HIV cases between 2019 and 2020, a reduction attributed to reduced HIV testing last year due to COVID-19 restrictions and disruptions.

The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the data indicate the number of people living in the region with undiagnosed HIV is on the rise. The groups called it an “alarming situation” since new HIV infections have been increasing in the region over the last decade.

“With the world’s attention focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget another deadly virus that has been devastating lives and communities for nearly 40 years. Since HIV was first identified in 1984, it has claimed more than 35 million lives, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history,” Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in a statement.

The survey results are based on responses from 21 of the 55 countries, territories and areas of the WHO European Region. Researchers found that despite the potential under-diagnosis and under-reporting in 2020, 104,765 new HIV infections were diagnosed in 46 of the 53 countries of the European Region.

The two organizations say the survey results “clearly show the HIV pandemic is not over, and while progress has been made, global targets for 2020 were not met and there is a real danger that the 2030 goal will not be met either.” In a proclamation issued Tuesday, President Joe Biden noted 700,000 Americans have so far died from AIDS-related illness and said nearly 38 million people around the world are living with HIV. Biden said his administration was “committed to helping the world end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030” and cited “remarkable progress” over the past 40 years.

Biden has reinstated the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and said his administration this week is releasing an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy that “will make equity a cornerstone of our response and bring a whole-of-government approach to fighting HIV.” His budget request seeks $670 million to support the Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. “Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work,” Biden wrote.

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