Report: Spread of HIV in Estonia continues to slow

Blood being drawn for an HIV test.
Blood being drawn for an HIV test. Source: (Urmas Luik/Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)

The number of new cases of HIV being diagnosed in Estonia remains on a downward trend, thanks in large part to expanded harm reduction services and testing capabilities, it appears from a report on the National HIV Action Plan.

A total of 219 new cases of HIV were registered in Estonia in 2017. By 2018, the number of new cases fell to 190, it appears from a report on National HIV Action Plan for the Years 2017-2025 implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs, spokespeople for the ministry told BNS on Friday. The number of new cases of HIV has been curbed by increased capabilities in harm reduction services as well as HIV testing opportunities.

The goal of the action plan approved in 2017 is to bring the number of new cases of HIV per year to the EU average of fewer than 100 per year.

"The spread of HIV has decreased on year in Estonia, family doctors are conducting an increasing number of HIV tests, and options for rapid testing have also improved," Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Centre) said. "State-of-the-art treatment is available to people living with HIV, and the availability of case management services has also improved."

According to Kiik, additional funds allocated to HIV prevention and the expansion of treatment options in recent years have helped curb the spread of the illness, but in order to reach the goal set in the action plan, consistent action must continue.

Testing, harm reduction, treatment key

In 2017, the availability of rapid testing for HIV increased significantly, which has been particularly important for more vulnerable groups, for instance, as part of harm reduction services targeted at users of narcotic substances. A rapid test provides results in a matter of minutes and, if needed, the patient can immediately be referred to a treatment center for further testing.

Beginning last year, the network of harm reduction services was also improved with the introduction of buses providing needle exchanges, counseling and rapid HIV testing in Tallinn and Ida-Viru County. As of 2018, state-of-the-art treatment has also been available to those living with HIV. Modern treatment is more convenient for patients than before, involves fewer side effects and helps suppress the virus more rapidly.

The capacity for case management services at HIV treatment centers in Tallinn, Tartu, Jõhvi and Narva was also increased last year. 

Altogether 74 percent of people who were diagnosed with HIV in 2017 and 83 percent of those diagnosed in 2018 were aged 30 or over, with heterosexual transmission identified as the chief cause of the spread of the illness. Same-sex transmission, meanwhile, accounted for less than 10 percent of new HIV cases, and drug injection for approximately 10 percent of cases. The source of the virus was undetermined in some 40 percent of cases.

The actions outlined in the National HIV Action Plan are based on the 90-90-90 targets set by the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO), according to which 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 percent of those receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

The action plan covers activities under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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