Europe becoming complacent over HIV prevention

Rising levels of gonorrhoea and syphilis across western Europe since 1995 imply that complacency over HIV prevention efforts may have set in among individuals and some governments, argue researchers in this week’s BMJ.

Angus Nicoll and Francoise Hamers examined national trends in diagnosed HIV infections, gonorrhoea, and infectious syphilis from 1995 to 2000.

They found the numbers of new diagnoses of sexually acquired HIV infections increased by 20% in western Europe. Rates of gonorrhoea increased in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, while outbreaks of syphilis have recently been reported in several countries, especially among men who have sex with men, including men already infected with HIV.

These preliminary data show that sexual health has deteriorated in parts of western Europe in recent years, say the authors. Increasing numbers of people are living with HIV, levels of sexually transmitted infections that facilitate HIV transmission are rising, and sexual behaviour is getting more risky. The danger is that HIV transmission rates could increase again.

AIDS campaigns from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s seem to have been forgotten and efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV need to be strengthened, they say. In addition to prevention measures, consistent surveillance needs to be established across Europe to monitor trends in key sexually transmitted infections, resistance of gonorrhoea, and likely incidence of HIV transmission.

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