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Health News

HIV, TB tests fall in East Europe and Central Asia due to COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear attends to a patient at the Vologda City Hospital Number 1, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, in Vologda, Russia November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Testing for HIV and tuberculosis has fallen in Eastern Europe and Central Asia during the coronavirus pandemic and could lead to higher mortality rates, a U.N. special envoy for AIDS said on Wednesday.

Restrictions to curb the new coronavirus and the repurposing of health facilities to treat COVID-19 patients has contributed to fewer HIV and TB cases being detected, said Michel Kazatchkine, U.N. Special Advisor to the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“The consequence of that will be further delay for the region in reaching the UN targets, most likely increased mortality,” he told an online briefing.

In the first half of 2020, Russia’s Federal AIDS Center reported 38,126 new HIV infections, some 20.5% fewer than in the first six months of 2019.

The center attributed the decline to a decrease in the number of HIV tests carried out and a fall in the number of patients visiting AIDS centres.

Kazatchkine said there had been a 48% drop in the number of tuberculosis cases in the region reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in May this year compared to last year.

“This is due to the limited movement of people during COVID lockdowns and quarantines,” he said. “But it is also linked to the fact that many staff persons working in TB and TB hospitals and facilities have been reprofiled to become COVID hospitals and facilities.”

He said a decrease of over 30% in newly reported cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis was very worrying.

About 1.7 million people live with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to UNAIDS data. About 275,000 people contracted tuberculosis and some 24,000 died as result of the disease in 2017 in the WHO European region.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Timothy Heritage

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