Statistics data suggests that HIV infections have almost doubled in Estonia in 2022. Experts say that the spike is caused by more active testing but also HIV-positive refugees.
If last year, 125 people were diagnosed with HIV, the figure is already at 213 for 2022. The Estonian Institute for Health Development (TAI) said that while HIV infections remain high, there is no cause to talk about a new outbreak.
"The [infection] rate came down 2011 to 2019, the drop was 8 percent, whereas it was 15 percent for 2020 compared to 2019. The coronavirus pandemic complicated HIV testing," Iveta Tomera, senior infectious diseases specialist for TAI, told ERR.
HIV testing dropped back to the 2007 level during the Covid pandemic.
The other reason behind the spike in registered infections is the addition of Ukrainian war refugees to Estonian medical statistics. The West Tallinn Central Hospital (LTKH) has registered 66 refugees only a few of whom learned they have HIV in Estonia. Six have left Estonia since.
"Most people who reached Estonia had been receiving treatment before, maintained good discipline and had the virus under control," said Kersti Kink, chief of medicine for the hospital.
Liza, who gave birth in Estonia in April, is one of those Ukrainian refugees whose treatment started back home. "Back in Ukraine, I was worried about what they think of HIV-positive people here, availability of treatment and help," she said.
While Liza's child was born healthy, four newborns were born with HIV last year and the year before. Kink said that whether a newborn will have HIV depends on how diligently their mother takes their drugs.
"Clearly these women have not been diligent. Unfortunately, some people never get to the doctor. They do not go to a gynecologist, not to mention an infectious disease specialist. They just go and give birth," the chief of medicine for LTKH said.
Last year, 12 people were diagnosed with AIDS, with seven people getting the new diagnosis just months after being diagnosed with HIV. 48 people died of AIDS. Kink said that the roots for such a high mortality rate go back to the HIV epidemic of the early 2000s.
"People who have not seen a doctor or developed other health problems before are getting severely ill now," the doctor explained.
The average HIV-positive person is 35-40 years of age, whereas the virus is increasingly transmitted heterosexually.
"People's sexual education could be better. Simple ways of warding off illness have been neglected," Kink said.
Even though the native infection rate has not exploded, Estonia remains among countries with the highest HIV rates in the EU, behind just Malta and Latvia.
Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski
Source: "Aktuaalne kaamera"