AIDS in ArmeniaArmenia is a landlocked country sharing borders with Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Throughout history, this key location rendered Armenia vulnerable to the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian and Ottoman empires. Most recently in 1920, the Soviet Red Army ruled the country until 1991 when Armenia regained its independence. The following year Armenia joined the United Nations and in 2001 it became a member of the Council of Europe. This is a country with a long, rich and complex history infused with religion, national strife, war and genocide.

Like every other country in the world, present-day Armenia battles a deadly condition: HIV/AIDS. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, rendering it vulnerable to other infections and even various cancers. Globally in 2017, 1.8 million people were newly infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If untreated HIV results in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). In 2017 AIDS took the lives of 940,000 people worldwide.

4 Facts About the Status of AIDS in Armenia

  1. In 2016, the World Health Organization recognized Armenia as one out of four countries that eliminated mother-to-child transmissions of HIV. Additionally, since 2010, new HIV infections in Armenia decreased by 31 percent.

  2. Although new cases of HIV declined within the last decade, AIDS-related deaths increased by 26 percent. Although there isn’t a known cure for HIV or AIDS, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can suppress the virus and prevent its spread to others. However, in 2016 only slightly more than one-third of Armenians with HIV sought out ART.

  3. There are ways to continue the fight against AIDS in Armenia. In 2017 there were an estimated 3,400 Armenians living with HIV or AIDS. One of the key issues surrounding AIDS in Armenia is that nearly half of Armenians with the virus don’t know that they have it. Preventative measures such as comprehensive and inclusive sex education, increased use of protection during sex and regular HIV testing are key in lowering the number of AIDS-related deaths and fighting AIDS in Armenia.

  4. Key populations most affected by AIDS are sex workers, LGBTQ+ individuals, people who inject drugs, prisoners and outbound migrant workers. These groups oftentimes face social stigma and discrimination which render them more vulnerable to contracting HIV. They also tend to have reduced access to HIV testing and ART.

For the last three years, Armenia has upheld its status as having ended mother-to-infant transmission of HIV. This is a massive success for Armenians and the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS worldwide. However, there are many more steps that Armenia and other countries can take to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS and lower the number of AIDS-related deaths. Comprehensive sex education, access to condoms, HIV-testing and antiretroviral therapy are key in fighting this deadly condition. Additionally, combating stigma and reducing discrimination against vulnerable populations will greatly impact the prevalence of HIV and AIDS worldwide.

– Keeley Griego
Photo: UNFPA

On June 30, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized Cuba as the first nation in the world to officially eliminate HIV mother-child transmission, a huge step towards the eradication of the disease entirely. WHO guidelines define ‘elimination of transmission’ as transmission so low that it no longer constitutes a public health problem — a level now certifiably reached by Cuba in terms of transmission of the disease from mother to child. Both the WHO and the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), as well as nations around the world, congratulated Cuba in recognition of this historic achievement. Director-General of the WHO Margaret Chan called the milestone “one of the greatest public health achievements possible.”

The WHO estimates that more than 42 million people now live with HIV. 1.4 million HIV-positive women become pregnant every year, and inevitably run the risk of transferring this disease to their child. The likelihood of the infant being HIV-positive varies, but the disease can be transmitted in many ways — not only during the pregnancy, but also during breastfeeding and in different stages of the delivery process. According to various conditional factors — including geography, income and race — an untreated woman with HIV currently has a 15-45 percent chance of transmitting HIV to her child.

However, antiretroviral medications have shown enormous progress in reducing the number of children who are born HIV-positive, lowering the risk to a barely 1 percent chance of infection.

But this medication is only a crucial first step to preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to children. Cuba, with help from the WHO and other international and regional organizations, has employed a rigorous and comprehensive program that resulted in the successful elimination of mother-to-child transmission. Cuba has previously received recognition for having the lowest HIV prevalence in the Americas, at 0.05 percent of its 11 million inhabitants, partly due to a nationwide HIV screening program implemented in the 1980s.

Cuba’s existing healthcare infrastructure, which guarantees healthcare to all citizens, has allowed the nation to infuse mandatory maternal and child health programs with the tools needed for early prevention and treatment of HIV. Such treatment includes access to prenatal care and comprehensive testing, as well as treatment for HIV-positive mothers and their children both before and after delivery. A few particularly successful efforts beyond the provision of antiretroviral medication deserve credit for Cuba’s achievement: these include mandatory HIV testing for expectant women (and their partners), provision of caesarean deliveries over natural births and breastfeeding substitutions for HIV-positive mothers.

While this success was doubtless a joint and multilateral effort between various organizations, institutions and the Cuban government, it is equally obvious that the superb Cuban health system provided the gateway for the possibility of such an achievement. The Pan-American Health Organization’s (PAHO’s) director, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, commented that “Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success… [it] provides inspiration for other countries.”

– Melissa Pavlik

Sources: WHO 1, WHO 2, The Conversation
Photo: Caribbean 360