AHF Europe hosts rapid HIV testing consultation in Tallinn

In Estonia by AHF

TALLINN, Estonia (June 20, 2016) On Tuesday 21 June, stakeholders in the fight against HIV are coming together to evaluate 6 years of AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF) work: the introduction of HIV rapid testing in Estonia. As new national plans are being developed to increase the utilization of rapid HIV tests and linkage to care for key affected populations, AHF Europe and Estonian partners will evaluate the impact of the introduction of this innovative tool in Estonia in 2010, the first year of AHF Europe’s partnership with the Estonian Network of People living with HIV (EHPV) and the national Institute of Health Development (TAI).

Tuesday 21 June, 13.00 – 17.00
Park Inn by Radisson Central, Narva maantee 7c, 10117 Tallinn

The AHF rapid testing model works: since 2010, almost 60,000 people have been tested for HIV in Estonia, using the rapid, 60-second HIV test. The test is easy and convenient in its use, and helps to lower the threshold to get tested. Public testing events, testing in rehab centers, gay clubs and shelters, have led to a change in perspective on how to tackle the ongoing HIV epidemic in Estonia. To date, AHF has invested over 1 million euros in the rapid testing program in Estonia. Since then, 1,200 people learned their positive HIV-status and over 1 million free condoms have been distributed.

During a parliamentary session held on 7 June, several plans were discussed to enhance the use of the rapid testing tool. Amongst other topics, allowing rapid tests to be administered by non-medical professionals – which is a recommendation made by the WHO in July 2015 – and developing a framework for GPs to include rapid testing in their practice, accessible for anyone visiting. “These are very encouraging plans,” said Zoya Shabarova, AHF Europe Bureau Chief. “After we started working in Estonia, the Estonian government decided to include HIV rapid testing into the national testing strategy. We are grateful for the fruitful collaboration over the past years, and we are holding this consultation to discuss if there is any need from the Estonian government and civil sector for continued support.”

“In order to reach the ambitious goal to eradicate HIV in 2030, a lot still needs to be done in Estonia, mainly in reaching vulnerable groups, such as men having sex with men, sex workers and people using drugs,” said Anna Zakowicz, AHF Europe Deputy Bureau Chief. “Many people are not being reached through traditional channels; we need innovation and an accessible care-system.” Although the number of new HIV diagnoses has dropped substantially over the last decade, from 1,474 in 2001 to 291 in 2015, still a very limited number of people in need of treatment actually receive it: out of approximately 9,000 people living with HIV in Estonia, a third of them receive life-saving treatment.

AHF Europe and EHPV opened an HIV clinic in Narva in 2013, and in cooperation with Iva-Viruum Regional Hospital, started providing treatment to people living with HIV in 2015. In Narva, where the epidemic is the biggest in the country, only an estimated 20% of people living with HIV are receiving the life-saving treatment they need; this has devastating consequences for the local community. Many patients are dependent on drugs, have no stable jobs and live in an unstable social environment. “This community needs a comprehensive care model that is low-threshold and includes social and mental support as well,” said Zakowicz. “If we recognize this and incorporate these lessons into policies, we will be able to make a true change.”

Both Aljona Kurbatova, Head of the Infectious Diseases and Drug Abuse Prevention Department of TAI, and Anna Zakowicz from AHF Europe, will present new data on rapid testing in Estonia since 2010. Discussions will focus on the needs of communities at risk, the current gaps in HIV testing provision and actions to address them. The ministry of health will be represented through Anna Liisa Pääsukene.

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