Half of all women with HIV in Europe are diagnosed late

03 December 2019

Article: 53/4802

A report published on 28 November 2019 by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, shows that women accounted for one-third of the new 141,000 HIV diagnoses in Europe in 2018.

Many women in the WHO European Region, particularly those in their 40s, are diagnosed at a late stage of HIV infection, when their immune system is already starting to fail, and are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed late than younger women.

The HIV epidemic in Europe is driven by a persistent problem with late diagnosis, which affects 54% of known cases among women. Large proportions of late diagnoses are partly a result of relatively low HIV testing coverage and uptake. This indicates that sexual risks, including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, are not being adequately addressed in older adults.

Two-thirds (60%) of the HIV diagnoses among women in 2018 were in the 30–49 age group. Heterosexual sex was the most commonly reported HIV transmission mode (92%) among women.

Early diagnosis of HIV allows people to start HIV treatment sooner, which increases their chances of living a long and healthy life. It also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to others because effective treatment results in an undetectable viral load, meaning that the virus can no longer be transmitted.

Enhanced strategies and systems, which make HIV testing more widely available and user-friendly are required to ensure early diagnoses.

The WHO consolidated guidelines on HIV self-testing and partner notification and ECDC’s evidence-based guidance on integrated testing for HIV and viral hepatitis recommend approaches that include self-testing and community-based testing by lay providers as part of overall HIV testing services.

Enhanced strategies to diagnose women earlier include: 

  • increasing awareness among women and health-care providers 
  • offering counselling and testing services adapted to the needs of women 
  • notifying partners of men who are diagnosed with HIV 
  • providing HIV testing based on specific health conditions, such as other sexually transmitted infections, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis or certain cancers 
  • providing testing and treatment services in the community and closer to populations

Source: WHO, 28 November 2019