Record-high number of new HIV cases reported in Czechia

For the first time, the number of new cases involving foreigners exceeded the number of cases of Czechs. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 01.02.2023 10:32:00 (updated on 01.02.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The number of new HIV cases in Czechia last year was the highest since 1985, when statistics began to be kept. Laboratories found 292 cases, six more than in the previous worst year of 2016, and 59 more than last year. Over half of the new cases were foreigners, the National Reference Laboratory for HIV/AIDS of the State Health Institute (SZÚ) said.

Experts say Czechia still ranks among the states with a low incidence of HIV, with 2.78 cases per 100,000 population. The number of newly detected cases among Czech inhabitants has been steadily falling since 2019. It reached 126 last year. In comparison, there were 199 in 2016.

Sharp rise in cases from Eastern Europe

Last year's new cases included 237 men and 55 women, with 126 Czech citizens and 166 foreigners with long-term permanent residence in Czechia. This is the first time that foreigners prevail among newly detected patients. Most often, most of the cases were from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.

In 2015–19, Ukrainians made up about 20 percent of the new cases among foreigners. In 2020 and 2021 their share rose to 37 percent. In 2022, due to the war in Ukraine, 100 Ukrainians were newly diagnosed with HIV, which was 60 percent of all newly diagnosed foreigners.

Statistics on Ukrainians with refugee status are kept separately by the SZÚ. From the beginning of the war to the end of last year, 578 HIV-positive refugees came to the Czech Republic, including 380 women and 198 men. Of these, 20 were children under 15 years old.

"The vast majority of these refugees knew about their HIV positive status, had received treatment in Ukraine so far, and needed to ensure continuity of treatment for HIV infection," the National Reference Laboratory said. Refugees from Ukraine have the opportunity to continue HIV treatment in the Czech Republic free of charge thanks to insurance and are informed about this upon arrival, or by their doctor in Ukraine.

Prevention programs are working

According to the Czech Health Ministry, the increase in the number of newly recorded HIV cases shows the prevention system that reaches out to people who are at higher risk of infection is functioning.

This contributes to reducing the risk of further spread of HIV, ministry spokesman Ondřej Jakob told ČTK. People are interested in checking their health status, and people who have HIV are interested in treatment, he added. One week-long event last year saw over 1,800 people get free testing, for example.

"All of this clearly contributes to reducing the possible risk for the population. Antiretroviral treatment has a fundamental benefit for the development of the patient's health. At the same time, treatment plays a vital role in preventing the spread of infection," he added. Currently, people undergoing treatment are highly unlikely to transmit the disease.

Rising trend peaked in 2016

From the start of monitoring in 1985, the number of new HIV cases annually rose until 2016, when it culminated at 286, and it has been oscillating since.

A total of 4,366 HIV cases have been detected since 1985. Out of them, 3,086 were Czech citizens and 1,280 foreigners. A total of 824 people developed AIDS and 567 succumbed to it.

The most frequent transfer of HIV is through sexual intercourse. Half of the infected are men who have sex with men, and 31 percent of the patients got infected in heterosexual intercourse. Last year's cases include one case of infection through blood transfusion and eight cases of infection among intravenous drug users.

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