The number of people diagnosed with HIV has remained steady this year despite testing rates declining substantially due to COVID-19 complications, Malta's LGBTIQ rights movement has noted. 

78 new patients were diagnosed with the condition this year, with at least one of the cases being an AIDS case, the MGRM said. 

"Whilst more testing would consequently mean more diagnoses, the peculiarity of this year is that testing has decreased substantially yet diagnoses remain high," it said.

The MGRM said that while Malta was on the cusp of strengthening its HIV strategy along the three-pronged approach proposed by UNAIDS, "something is clearly not working as it should be". 

UNAIDS' 90:90:90 target seeks to ensure that 90 per cent of people with HIV know their status, 90 per cent of those people are on medication, and 90 per cent of those on medication are undetectable and untransmittable.

The organisation issued its cautionary note in a statement released on Tuesday, to mark World AIDS Day. 

It urged authorities to prepare to ramp up HIV testing the moment the COVID-19 pandemic came to an end. 

Medication distribution

The MGRM also noted that although new HIV medication that replaces current, severely outdated medication has arrived in Malta, it is not yet being distributed and dispensed to patients.

“We acknowledge that it was entirely opportune to dedicate our excellent consultants and medical professionals, who have decades of experience in handling HIV, to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Nevertheless, here too, a plan is needed to resume focus on HIV. Medication that is available needs to be distributed if we want to regain control of this virus,” it said.

The movement said that preventative treatment also had to be readily available especially among the population most vulnerable to HIV.

Treatment existed in the form of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which is a pill that when taken regularly by someone who is not already living with HIV reduces the risk of transmission by more than 99%.

A prevention strategy that includes PrEP and condoms would mean that everyone is fully armed against all STIs, it said.

At a current cost of €57 monthly if taken daily, the medication remained inaccessible to those living with limited means, it added.

COVID-19 has taught that “every life, and every pandemic, is a priority”.

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