As the World Commemorates AIDS Day, Specialists Remind: HIV Treatment Enables People with HIV Infection to Live a Good Quality Life and Prevents HIV Transmission

Date

2022 12 01

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121 – that`s the number of people in Lithuania who tested positive for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) last year, almost half of whom were from Vilnius County, according to the data obtained by the National Public Health Center (NVSC). An estimated 1.5 million individuals became newly infected worldwide in 2021, and more than 600,000 died of AIDS related diseases. 

World AIDS Day is the perfect time for us to raise much needed awareness about HIV prevention and remind everybody that today HIV infection can be well controlled by drugs, therefore getting tested and starting early treatment is very important. Early diagnosis will not only ensure a normal life, but also prevent further HIV transmission.

 According to the statistics, most people who get HIV in Lithuania get it through sex, therefore it is necessary to talk about HIV/AIDS to young people. 

Sex education plays a vital role to curb AIDS epidemic that started last century. We need to talk to young people in their immediate environment and encourage safe and responsible behavior among them in order to protect them, say specialists. 

Epidemiologists remind us that HIV is transmitted by three main routes: sexual contact, exposure to infected blood while sharing infected syringes or needles, blood transfusions, invasive procedures with non-sterile instruments and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding which is much less frequent. 

Therefore, specialists emphasize the importance of prevention: avoid having sex with casual partners and always use condoms during sex. In order to avoid HIV infection through blood, it is recommended not to use non-sterile syringes or needles, and instruments used for manicure, pedicure, tattooing etc. Specialists performing invasive procedures must use personal protective equipment in order to avoid microtraumas. 

NVSC specialists emphasize the importance of early HIV diagnosis which allows to start early treatment and stop HIV transmission. "Today, HIV and AIDS are no longer a death sentence. Due to available treatment, people with HIV and AIDS can live a full live until old age. The treatment not only can stop the progression of the disease and ensure a quality life but also prevents the further spread of the infection. Therefore, the most important thing is to get tested and start the treatment", - urges Giedrė Aleksienė, head of the Communicable Diseases Management Division and acting director of NVSC. 

Testing for HIV is primarily recommended for: people who have had sex with an HIV-infected person, people having one or more casual sex partners per month, men who have sex with men, people who have used or are still using injecting drugs/ psychotropic substances and their sex partners, and persons infected with syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and genital herpes. 

For HIV testing, rapid self-tests can be used, which are available in pharmacies and online stores. Rapid HIV tests are generally accurate. If a rapid HIV test is positive, it is necessary to conduct follow-up testing to confirm the result, so one should contact the family doctor immediately. Another option is a selective rapid HIV testing which is done free of charge in non-governmental organizations, low-threshold harm reduction offices and by having a laboratory blood test in a health care facility. 

World AIDS Day that has been observed each year on 1 December since 1988, is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite against HIV and show solidarity and support for people living with HIV. The theme of World AIDS Day 2022 - “Equalize.”. It implies that everyone should unite in fighting the inequalities in access to basic HIV services and calls for joint action to confront the injustices that are acting as hindrances in eradicating AIDS. 

According to the data obtained by NVSC, over three recent years (2019-2021) HIV incidence decreased from 5.4 to 4.3 cases per 100,000 population; the percentage of HIV-infected women increased, and the prevailing method of HIV transmission changed: for several years in a row, sexual transmission prevailed. 

Since the beginning of the epidemic, until 1 November, 3,783 cases of HIV infection were reported in Lithuania, among which the proportion of men compared to women was 3.5 times higher (2,934 infection cases among men and 849 cases among women).