Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been a major health concern since its discovery in the 1980s. The virus attacks the immune system and, if left untreated, can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
HIV infection is spread by multiple routes, such as sexual contact with a person living with HIV with a detectable level of virus in the blood, by sharing needles, syringes or other injection equipment with someone who is infected, or through transfusions of infected blood, although this is extremely rare today in European countries. Mother-to-child transmission is also rare in the EU/EEA countries.
Since its introduction in the mid-1990s, antiretroviral treatment has had a profound effect on the course of HIV infection, improving the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS and reducing the rate of AIDS- and HIV-related morbidity. There is also evidence that effective antiretroviral treatment results in viral suppression and eliminates transmission of HIV to sexual partners.
Although HIV is preventable, significant HIV transmission continues to take place in EU/EEA Member States, accession countries, neighbourhood policy countries and in the broader European Region as defined by the World Health Organization. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) estimates that about 800 000 people in the EU are living with HIV and require life-long treatment. Moreover, it is estimated that 1 in 8 of people living with HIV are not aware of their infection, and on average people live with HIV for 3 years before being diagnosed – time during which they may unknowingly transmit the virus to others. HIV/AIDS remains a public health concern in EU/EEA countries, with around 25 000 new diagnoses reported each year. Despite the overall decline in the EU as a whole, in one-third of EU/EEA countries the rates continue to increase.
Effective treatment of HIV infections exists but there is still no cure, or preventive vaccine.