Rapid HIV testing is set to be introduced next yer as part of Malta's efforts to diagnose people unaware of carrying this virus, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced this morning.
The initiative is part of a wider European plan aimed to diagnose at least 90 per cent of people with HIV by 2020. This plan aims to increase the number of HIV infected people receiving treatment and the rate of virus suppression to 90 per cent. These objectives have to be met by 2020.
Details of the fight against HIV were given during a news conference at the margins of a two-day conference the objective of which will be to put forward a set of recommendations to reach these targets. The recommendation will be then taken up by the EU Health Ministers during an informal meeting set for March.
The health minister noted that since HIV was discovered some 35 years ago there had been some notable developments.
While treatment improved, incidence among heterosexual couples stabilised, but the number of cases involving gay men was on the rise. In Malta, there were currently about 300 persons infected with HIV.
He pointed out that Malta lagged behind Europe when it came to diagnosis. While in the EU 85 per cent of HIV carriers were aware that they were infected, in Malta this rate stood at 75 per cent.
For this reason, rapid testing would be introduced later this year, to make it easier for persons suspecting of having contracted this virus to come forward before spreading it further.
On a positive note, the health minister said that 99 per cent of all diagnosed cases in Malta were being treated while the corresponding rate in the EU was 83 per cent. While the virus suppression rate in the the EU was 89 per cent, in Malta it was slightly lower at 87 per cent.
The news conference was also addressed by Andrew Amato Gauci from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, who sounded a warning about sexually transmitted diseases.
He noted that throughout Europe, including Malta, such diseases were on the rise "in similar fashion to the swinging sixties".
While noting that unprotected sex was the main reason, he also cautioned that the risks of HIV were being underestimated by many whom he said were "in denial".
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