Number of Czechs infected with HIV virus on rise

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection on / CC BY-NC-ND

December 1 is World AIDS Day, dedicated to raising awareness of the worldwide AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of the HIV virus. In the Czech Republic the number of people infected with HIV has steadily been going up, according to the country’s National Institute for Public Health.

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection on / CC BY-NC-ND
The HIV virus continues to be a major global public health issue with an estimated 36.7 million people having the virus last year. In the Czech Republic, the overall numbers may be low, relatively speaking, but they have steadily been going up. More than 3,800 people in the country have the virus, some 700 of whom don’t know they have the disease. Some 218 new cases of HIV infection were registered during the first ten months of this year alone.

Cases where HIV led to AIDS number 577, which is 35 more than the previous year; in 2015, the number was below 500.

Much of HIV and AIDS prevention has to do with awareness but the availability of new preventive drugs have also raised hope that the number of new infections could eventually be quelled. Czech Radio on Friday reported that a drug available for several years now on the market called Truvada, a fixed-dose combination of two antiretroviral medications, may have helped the number of new cases of HIV infection in New York drop to an all-time low in 2016 by 8.6 percent.

Czech Radio spoke to Jiří Pavlát, the head of Lighthouse, helping people with HIV and AIDS. He said that while the results of the drug were promising, it was still not widely available in the Czech Republic and was still too costly for most.

“The medication is used beforehand and during unsafe sex, prevents the HIV virus from being transmitted. In the Czech Republic, it is not widely available and when it is, the cost is prohibitive, unlike in Germany or Great Britain. It has been available for a number of years and in that has helped reign in the epidemic in some places or even led to a drop in numbers. Unfortunately, in the Czech Republic the opposite is true.”

Jiří Pavlát,  photo: Adéla Paulík Lichková
In Germany, a monthly dose of Truvada costs the equivalent of around 1,000 crowns and in France the medication is covered by health insurance companies; in those countries, however, a drop in the number of new HIV cases has not yet been registered. In the Czech Republic, it costs much more, around 6,000 – 8,000 crowns. Jiří Pavlát once more:

“In my view, the medication should at least be partly covered by health insurance. This is a medication which would not be used by a great number of people. It is a moral question, as was for example female contraception. People should be allowed a choice.”

Availability of the medication, says Pavlát, is limited to eight HIV help centres in the Czech Republic is not available without a doctor’s prescription.