According to UNAIDS 2018 Country Factsheet, there are 18,000 adults and children living with HIV in Romania. Of those, only 67% receive treatment. Despite these surprising numbers, HIV is a neglected issue in the country.
In an effort to educate the local community on the subject, AISB’s HIV Support Service Learning Group invited HIV expert Dr. Alina Maria Cibea to speak to students last December. Here’s what she had to say.
First, what does having HIV mean?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that fight infections, making a person more vulnerable to diseases.
The virus can be spread from person to person through bodily fluids, most commonly via unprotected sex or shared injection equipment. It cannot be transmitted by touching (see infographic below). As of today, there is no cure for HIV; this means patients live with it for the rest of their lives.
However, there are treatments like ART (antiretroviral therapy) that suppress the progression of HIV and prevent its transmission. This allows the patient to live a healthy life and remain sexually active without transmitting the virus to partners.
How is HIV different from AIDS?
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a condition where the body’s immune system is severely damaged because of HIV. In other words, HIV is a virus that may cause infections, while AIDS is a disease. Not all HIV patients develop AIDS.
There are fewer than 200 AIDS-related deaths per year in Romania. Nonetheless, there is little commitment from the government to ensure the vulnerable population receives HIV diagnosis and treatment.
Q&A with Dr. Alina Maria Cibea on HIV in Romania
Q. How is HIV treated and prevented in Romania?
A. For over 20 years, there has been a national program dedicated to HIV/AIDS infections, which involves both transmission prevention strategies, as well as treatment and monitoring infected patients. Both prevention strategies and treatment align with recommendations in international profile guides.
In this context, the ex-transmission rate of infection from mother to child has decreased in recent years <2-3% (similar to Western European countries). All HIV-positive patients in Romania have access to specialized investigations and treatment.
Q. Are there any statistics that show improvement throughout the years?
A. Statistics showing the dynamics of HIV infection in Romania since the 1990s and up to now exist on the site CNLAS (National Commission or Fighting AIDS), in English and Romanian.
Q. What progress has been made globally?
A. In recent years, there is a great emphasis on the quality of life of infected patients. With this in mind, research has uncovered new, much simplified therapeutic schemes, with much better tolerance and fewer adverse reactions. Medical education programs have reduced the stigma of HIV-positive patients and continue to aid in their acceptance, support, and integration.
Q. What are your thoughts on a possible cure for the virus being developed? Do you think that it would be possible in the near future?
A. The researchers in the field are constantly progressing and are very advanced. For now, there are studies evaluating increasingly effective drugs, with a convenient administration mode, with the best tolerance for patients. It is also discussed the possibility of discovering a treatment in the future to cure the disease, but it is difficult to estimate a period of time.
Dr. Alina Maria Cibea concludes that open discussion is essential because it clarifies common misconceptions and raises awareness on an under-addressed issue.
If you are interested in supporting HIV prevention and treatment in Romania, contact HIV Service Group Supervisor Alina Hora at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview translation credits to Selina L.