In Albania, 15 people have died from HIV/AIDS this year, and 113 more have been infected

 In Albania, HIV/AIDS affected 113 more people this year, leading to 15 deaths among them. Data from the Institute of Public Health indicates a low frequency of the disease and prompt free treatment.

However, a representative of HIV-positive patients told Voice of America on World AIDS Day that the disease has progressed significantly in the vast majority of newly diagnosed cases, and few cases are detected in the early stages.

In a report from Tirana, experts emphasize that the increase in testing has revealed more HIV cases, necessitating collaboration with civil society to enhance voluntary testing.

This year, HIV/AIDS claimed the lives of 15 people, 8 of whom belonged to new cases and 7 to those carrying the virus for years, according to data from the Institute of Public Health.

Of those recently affected by HIV/AIDS in Albania this year, 113 are individuals, 15 more than last year, as reported by the ISHP.

Among the recently affected, 87 are males and 26 are females, including 2 children, 18 young individuals, and 93 adults. Unlike previous years where young age groups were predominant, this year has seen an increase in those around 50 years old.

Olimbi Hoxha, a representative of the association for people living with HIV, states that the trend of HIV/AIDS spread remains the same as in previous years, and the vast majority of new cases are diagnosed in an advanced stage of the disease.

"A persistent characteristic is the late diagnosis. Around 72% of cases diagnosed this year have been found in advanced stages of AIDS. Now, 99 of them, almost all new cases, have been immediately put on therapy. The most affected age group this year is those over 50," says Ms. Hoxha.

Experts noted that the increase in HIV/AIDS cases is linked to more frequent controls and laboratory analyses. They emphasize that the more testing is done, the more new cases are identified.

Even though HIV is not prevalent, drug users constitute a vulnerable population, and the risk for younger individuals is significant. Aksion Plus organization provides methadone therapy for drug users in 8 centers nationwide.

Genci Muçollari, the organization's director, states that known cases of drug users affected by HIV are few, but there might be hidden cases within their ranks due to unprotected sex and needle exchange.

"Drug users are increasing from year to year. Albania now has nearly 100,000 drug users, at least once. Marijuana predominates among the youth, leading them to stronger drugs like heroin, and then all the risks come from Hepatitis C, HIV, overdoses," says Mr. Muçollari.

The Institute of Public Health observes that over 95% of HIV cases in Albania spread through unprotected sexual relations, with 72% from heterosexual relationships and 23% from homosexual and bisexual relationships.

This year, about 60,000 HIV tests have been conducted, approximately the same as the previous year, but a significant increase in tests has been seen among pregnant women.

Eugena Tomini, the director of the institute, states that late diagnoses can only be avoided by increasing voluntary testing and by civil society cooperating with the healthcare system.

"The healthcare system would strengthen by intertwining activities, monitoring, reporting with civil society. It has an extraordinary role in the real-time appearance of cases, reported not only by the system but also in the care of a case that cannot be caught by the monitoring system, the public and non-public healthcare system," says Ms. Tomini.

Health authorities provide free antiretroviral therapy for 837 individuals currently and have been doing so since 2004. Experts assert that, in addition to the increase in voluntary testing, comprehensive control is needed for all pregnant women, disease prevention, and destigmatization for this group, often discriminated against in education and employment.

This disease has caused 343 deaths over 30 years in Albania and has affected over 1,700 individuals, with more than two-thirds being males and 473 females, 53 children, 163 young people, and 1,500 adults.
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