An ‘alarming’ number of HIV cases were diagnosed in Europe last year

‘Scale up your response now’: Health chiefs warn of an ‘unacceptably high’ number of new HIV cases in Europe

  • Nearly 160,000 people in Europe were diagnosed with HIV last year
  • Experts say the figure is ‘unacceptably high’ and urge countries to act
  • Although HIV cases are on the rise, fewer people are suffering from AIDS

Health chiefs have today warned of an ‘unacceptably high’ number of new HIV cases in Europe.

Nearly 160,000 people were diagnosed across the continent with the virus that can lead to AIDS last year, figures show.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now urged governments to ‘scale up your response now’ to keep on track for eliminating AIDS.

MailOnline has today sifted through the data, released by the body, to reveal the rates of HIV across all the countries in Europe. 

Some 160,000 people were diagnosed with HIV for the first time in Europe last year, with 130,000 of the new cases in the east of the continent, while rates are falling in the EU

Ukraine had the highest rate of new HIV infections, with 37 per 100,000 people – far higher than any other country and a total of 15,680 people.

This was followed by Belarus, with 26.1 cases per 100,000, Moldova with 20.6, and Latvia with 19.

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The countries with the fewest new cases were Liechtenstein, which didn’t have a single diagnosis, and Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which both had fewer than one per 100,000.

The UK had 4,363 new cases – second only in the EU to France – which works out at 6.7 per 100,000 people.

‘It’s hard to talk about good news in the face of another year of unacceptably high numbers of people infected with HIV,’ said the WHO’s Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab. 



‘While efforts to prevent new HIV infections are gradually showing signs of progress, we are not on course to meet [our] targets by the 2020 deadline.

‘My call to governments, ministers of health and decision-makers is bold: scale up your response now.’

Around 81 per cent of these new cases were among people in eastern Europe – the highest number ever for a single year.

And of the 130,000 cases in eastern Europe, 59 per cent came from heterosexual transmission, according to the patients.

But on the flipside, the number of new diagnoses in the EU went down, driven by a 20 per cent fall in infections among gay men.  

Across the whole continent, men are by far the worst affected gender – 70 per cent of new HIV diagnoses are in men.

Gay and bisexual men are most susceptible to catching HIV because anal sex carries a 10 times higher risk of infection than vaginal.

This is due to cells in the anus being more susceptible to HIV, as well as fluid in semen and the anus’ lining carrying more HIV than vaginal secretions.

The rate at which the disease – which is most often spread by unprotected sex or sharing drug needles – is spreading is not as fast as in the past.

The annual increase has dropped from 6.9 per 100,000 people in 2008 to 6.2 in 2017.

But experts say late diagnosis is a key reason for struggling to contain the virus – around half of patients are already in an advanced stage of the disease by the time they find out.


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an incurable sexually-transmitted disease which attacks the immune system. If untreated, it completely destroys the immune system. 


HIV has killed about 35 million people since the 1980s. Approximately 35 million people in the world currently have it. 


HIV is a virus that damages the cells in the immune system and weakens the ability to fight infections and disease.

Without treatment, HIV can turn into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is a syndrome (or, a set of symptoms) not a virus.

In layman’s terms, AIDS has been referred to as ‘late-stage HIV’. A person has AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. AIDS cannot be transmitted from one person to another; HIV can.


Those diagnosed with HIV need to be on medication for life to prevent it turning into AIDS, which is often fatal.

A decade ago, people who were HIV positive were given a shorter life expectancy because the medication, suppressing the immune system, made patients highly vulnerable to fatal infections.

Today, HIV drugs are much more sophisticated.

They allow for people who are HIV positive to live as long as anyone else in good health.

They can also suppress the viral load to such an extent that it is undetectable and untransmittable, meaning it’s possible to have intimate relationships without passing it on. 

‘Despite our efforts, HIV still damages the lives of so many people,’ said the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis.

‘[It] causes not only much suffering and illness, but also discrimination and stigmatization.

‘A lot of progress has been made, but there is still much more we must do.

‘We must overcome the stigma of HIV infection and treatment and continue our efforts in dispelling false beliefs about how HIV and AIDS are spread.

‘It is important for our public health services to support easy and affordable access to testing and medical care for vulnerable groups at risk of HIV infection.’

Though HIV cases continue to rise, the number of people developing AIDS – when HIV causes the immune system to fail fatally – is falling.

The number of AIDS cases in the region fell by seven per cent between 2012 and 2017.

In the EU in 2017, 89 per cent of AIDS cases were diagnosed within just 90 days of a HIV diagnosis, which emphasises the need for early intervention, experts say. 

Gay and bisexual men are most susceptible to catching HIV because anal sex carries a 10 times higher risk of infection than vaginal.

This is due to cells in the anus being more susceptible to HIV, as well as fluid in semen and the anus’ lining carrying more HIV than vaginal secretions.

UNAIDS warned earlier this year the fight in controlling AIDS was at a ‘precarious point’ and that the AIDS epidemic risks resurging and spiraling out of control.

HIV infections must be limited to 500,000 per year globally by 2020 to achieve the UN goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. 

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