Survey: Over 2,500 persons with HIV in Estonia not receiving treatment

The majority of those diagnosed with HIV live in either Harju County or Ida-Viru County at the time of diagnosis.
The majority of those diagnosed with HIV live in either Harju County or Ida-Viru County at the time of diagnosis. Source: Vladislav Musakko/Virumaa Teataja/Scanpix

As of last year, there were over 2,500 HIV-positive people in Estonia who were either not aware of their seropositive status or had been diagnosed with HIV but were not receiving continuous treatment, the results of a study conducted by the National Institute for Health Development (NIHD) indicate.

In each of the past ten years, the number of HIV-positive people seeking treatment has exceeded the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV, spokespeople for the NIHD quoted Liis Lemsalu, the author of the survey on the number of people diagnosed with HIV and their involvement in treatment in Estonia from 2000-2017, as saying.

"This demonstrates that people who received a diagnosis in earlier years finally come under the supervision of an infectious disease doctor who can prescribe antiretroviral treatment," she explained. "Continuous antiretroviral treatment allows for the suppression of the virus in the body, and an HIV-positive person can lead a normal life without posing a significant danger of passing on the disease. Doctors, social workers and policy makers now need to work toward more people staying on their therapy plan and not cutting it short — without this, it is not possible to limit the spread of HIV."

She also noted that work needs to be done on reducing discrimination against persons with HIV.

According to Lemsalu, it is cause for concern that there are still some thousand people in Estonia that are unaware that they are also carrying HIV.

"An HIV test can be taken for free at one's family doctor, at counselling points, and within the framework of testing week at shopping centres, for instance," she noted. "Everyone can and should test themselves on a regular basis — by doing so, you are showing that you care about your own health as well as that of your loved ones, and it allows for the prevention of new cases."

Estimates too high, real numbers no cause for celebration

It also appears from the study that the estimated number of HIV cases in Estonia has exceeded the figures supported by personalised data by some 20%.

While previous reports indicate that a total of 9,711 people have been diagosed with HIV in Estonia over the past three decades, personalised data from infection cases found in various databases indicates that the total in reality is some 7,770.

Of those diagnosed with HIV over the years, 1,831, or 24%, had died by the end of last year, 17% of which had never received treatment. The most common causes of death included drug overdose as well as infectious and parasitic diseases.

As of the end of 2017, there were 5,939 people diagnosed with HIV living in Estonia, 40% of whom were women, three quarters of whom were aged 30-49, and 23% of whom had been in prison during the past ten year.

Of persons with HIV, 42% lived in Ida-Viru County and 39% in Harju County. 90% of those living with HIV had sought medical treatment following their diagnoses, and 58% were receiving continuous care from an infectious disease specialist in 2017.

According to the same survey, a total of 4,239 children have been born to HIV-positive people in Estonia, 87% of whom may have been minors at the end of 2017, according to their year of birth. In 18% of cases, the children were born to two HIV-positive parents.

According to the Health Board, 46 children in Estonia have contracted HIV from their mother.

As of 23 November, 173 new HIV cases had been diagnosed in Estonia since the beginning of the year.

Antiretroviral treatment is free for patients in Estonia.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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