The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

More than 2,400 infections diagnosed at GU Clinic so far this year

Giulia Magri Saturday, 1 December 2018, 13:39 Last update: about 11 days ago

41% of people tested at the Genitourinary (GU) Clinic this year had some form of sexually transmitted infection, with some individuals having more than one STD.

Data provided to The Malta Independent by the GU Clinic shows that 5830 patients had been tested as at 27 November. A total of 2428 infections were diagnosed.

A spokesperson said the date also includes patients who were diagnosed with more than one infection at the same time or in different sites (throat and/or anus and/or genital), representing a total burden of STIs diagnosed at the GU clinic this year.  

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In 2017, the clinic carried out 5,864 consultations. 

68% of patients treated in 2018 were Maltese. 22% were EU citizens and 10% were third country nationals.

In 2017 and 2018, 65% of patients were males and 35% were females.

The data for both years shows that around 40% of patients were heterosexual men, and around 32% were heterosexual females.

Around 20% were gay men, and around 5% were bisexual. Trans people, lesbians and questioning individuals each accounted for less than one percent.

Importance of European Testing Week 

European Testing Week (23 to 30 November) aims to make people more aware of HIV and the importance of early diagnosis. The goal of European Testing Week is to promote a discussion about the benefits of testing and supporting the educational programmes to promote safe sex campaigns.

As discussed earlier with Clayton Mercieca, Community Manger at the Allied Rainbow Communities (ARC) and LGBTQ spokesperson, the stigma of discussing HIV and testing is still an issue in Malta, which also is reflected in the number of registered patients at the GU Clinic.

The sooner a person is made aware of their condition, the sooner they can seek treatment and reach the stage known as viral suppression. While viral suppression does not mean that HIV is cured in person, it moderates the spread of the disease. Between 2004 and 2014 there have been a total of 300 new registered cases of HIV, and in 2016 two new cases of AIDS and 56 cases of HIV were reported.

HIV can be spread through the transmission of bodily fluids, such as through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Anyone who is sexually active and is not using protection can be at risk of contracting the life-long condition.

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. In a statement yesterday, the government noted that self-testing HIV kits were made available both at the GU clinic at Mater Dei Hospital as well as in various local pharmacies. These self-test kits allow a person to test for HIV discretely and at their own convenience. At the GU clinic these tests are free and give a quick result within 20 minutes.

This falls in line with efforts being made in Malta to adhere to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development where EU member states resolved to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, the government said. A set of goals has been set up to achieve this by 2020:

  • By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status
  • By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy
  • By 2020, 90% of all people received antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

 Malta is achieving excellent results in the second and third categories, but there is still a lot of work to be done to increase the number of people who are aware of their HIV status and having these self –testing kits available will help push up the figure towards the desired 90%.

 The message for this year’s World AIDS Day is to encourage more people to test for HIV. An estimated 25% of those living locally with HIV are unaware of the infection. This significantly increases the risk of HIV transmission. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO Regional Office for Europe have released the latest data on the HIV epidemic in the European Region, marking the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day. With nearly 160,000 people newly diagnosed with HIV, 2017 marked another year of alarming numbers of new HIV diagnoses in the WHO European Region. Encouragingly, the overall increasing trend is not as steep as before. The eastern part of the region recorded over 130 000 new HIV diagnoses, the highest number ever. In contrast, the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries reported a decline in rates of new diagnoses, mainly driven by a 20% decrease since 2015 among men who have sex with men.

Reaching and testing those at risk of infection with HIV is still a public health challenge across Europe. To diagnose HIV early, interrupt existing transmission chains and prevent further infections, Europe needs to work more closely with populations at risk. This means investing in prevention, testing and treatment particularly in key populations is needed to end the AIDS epidemic. No new cases of AIDS were reported in Malta in 2017. 

The Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate continuously collaborates with other entities, including the department of education and NGOs, to reach a wide range of people from different backgrounds, cultures and levels of education. The availability of these self-test kits is an important step in encouraging more people to test for the HIV virus. The earlier that someone is diagnosed with HIV, the earlier life-saving treatment can be started.

 

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