By Poly Pantelides
THIRTY-TWO new carriers of the HIV virus have been identified in Cyprus so far this year, but the actual number may in fact be bigger, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has said.
Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency, Stella Michaelidou of KYFA, a Limassol-based NGO supporting HIV/AIDS carriers told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) she was worried there could be carriers who are not known to authorities.
Michaelidou said five people have recently got in touch with KYFA asking for more information on how to get tested. If positive, those would be five HIV/AIDS carriers who are not yet in the health ministry’s archives, she said.
Others, diagnosed abroad, may not be known to authorities, and others still may be unaware they are HIV/AIDS carriers, she said.
The health ministry’s Ioannis Demetriades who is in charge of drafting the National Aids Programme said that there are known risks related to unprotected sex and illicit drug use.
But he added HIV/AIDS numbers in Cyprus are low. The United Nations’ programme on HIV/AIDS places Cyprus among countries of low prevalence of HIV infections but warns that because of the long asymptomatic phase of HIV, some persons in Cyprus may be infected but unaware.
A total of 825 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Cyprus between 1986 – when the National Aids Programme was launched – until August, Demetriades told CNA. Of those, 423 were Cypriots and 370 were nationals of other countries, most of whom do not live on the island.
According to the health ministry’s latest data 58 people were diagnosed last year, 54 were diagnosed in 2011 and 41 in 2010.
Of the 32 who were diagnosed up until August this year, 26 were Cypriots.
Five people died from AIDS in 2011 and at least five people died last year, health ministry officials have said.
Michaelidou said the increases in infections over recent years should be a cause of concern. “It is wrong to convey the message that nothing is happening and everything is rosy,” she said.
She said when a sex worker was recently diagnosed, the phone would not stop ringing at Gregorios clinic, referring to the specialist Larnaca-based clinic where the health ministry refers patients for treatment. A female sex worker tested positive for HIV in September and authorities had urged the public to get tested when relevant.
Doctors in Cyprus are obliged to inform the health ministry of all new HIV virus diagnoses.
Cyprus has subscribed to the UN goal of zero new infections or AIDS-related deaths by 2015.