The number of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS is increasing in Albania, with eight cases diagnosed since the beginning of 2023, showing a year-on-year rise.
According to a report from the Institute of Public Health, the new cases included five men and three women, the majority being in the capital of Tirana. Regarding age, one was in the age group 16-24, three aged between 25-34, one between 35-44 and three over 45.
Doctors have raised concerns that many of the infected with HIV see it progress to AIDS as they do not seek treatment quickly.
“Mostly, they come late. First, they are asymptomatic and then shame prevents them from coming,” said an infectious disease specialist doctor Nevila Kryemadhi.
In 2022, 11 people died of the virus, five of which had been diagnosed within that 12 months.
Currently, there are 780 adults and 12 children being treated for HIV in Albania and in 2022, a total of 80 people were diagnosed with HIV.
Kyremadhi added that in a special centre in Tirana dealing with sexually transmitted diseases, an average of 10 patients a day appear for treatment.
As for the driving force behind the increase in cases, the specialist said that an increase in sexual partners, same-sex relationships, drug use, lowered age of starting sexual activity, a lack of information and contraception have a part to play – though shame also stops people from taking precautions, Kryemadhi added.
“The difficulty is great because there are many taboos, and people do not go to buy condoms.” In 96% of cases, the infection was due to having unprotected sex.
Albania currently has the lowest rate of HIV infections in the region, but the increasing numbers could soon change this. In 2022, some 50,000 tests were performed, 16% more than in 2021, and the number of cases rose over 50% between 2018 and 2020.
Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said that rapid diagnoses and treatment are key.
“The whole fight in this aspect is timely diagnosis so that the treatment can start as soon as possible and the infection is under control.”
The state provides treatment for HIV at no charge, and there is a dedicated HIV/AIDS clinic at the country’s main hospital.
In 2020, the LGBTI-ERA organisation said Albania failed to provide adequate care for those suffering from the virus. This was due to not importing the necessary medications quickly enough or in enough quantities, often leaving shortages where they are not available at all.