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Cyprus reflects on challenges, progress on World AIDS day

Christina Yiannaki, ministry of health
Health ministry permanent secretary,w Dr Christina Yiannaki, at the press conference for World AIDS Day

Only 48 per cent of HIV-positive individuals in Cyprus experience a good quality of life, according to ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency on International Day against HIV and AIDS, falling worldwide on December 1, she explained that the low percentage observed in Cyprus can be linked to social exclusion, leading some patients to even withdraw from pharmaceutical treatment, incurring serious medical, social, and epidemiological costs.

Stylianou-Lottides highlights that AIDS remains an ongoing challenge, with HIV-positive individuals facing discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, resulting in reduced access to fundamental human rights.

She stressed the need for clear and specific measures by the state to fully safeguard the rights of people dealing with HIV and AIDS.

She then further underlined the state’s obligation to ensure the dignity of AIDS patients by devising an effective and democratic policy for virus prevention and equal, discrimination-free treatment, adding that the stigma and prejudices associated with the disease “hinder prevention efforts and support, leading affected individuals to isolate themselves and avoid seeking examination or care due to fear of further discrimination.”

Stylianou-Lottides, however, said she is satisfied with the reconstitution of the National AIDS Committee, praising its pivotal role in guiding policies related to the virus, anticipating a close collaboration with the relevant ministries to promote a human-rights-centred framework for prevention and support.

Citing data gathered from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the diseases, she said that recent global statistics revealed that millions worldwide live with HIV, and, despite progress, millions still lack access to proper treatment.

In Cyprus, HIV patients receive care at the Grigorio clinic of the Larnaca general hospital, the only specialised clinic in the country.

Stylianou-Lottides added that there are concerns about the clinic’s staffing and advocated for the hiring of an additional doctor based on the number of patients under its care.

She concluded by saying that eradicating stereotypes and bias surrounding AIDS still requires multifaceted efforts from various state and non-state actors, promoting a unified and coordinated policy.

The director general of the health ministry, Christina Yiannaki, also made comments during the International Day against HIV and AIDS, saying that in 2022, there were a total of 218 cases of HIV infection recorded in Cyprus.

Of these, 146 were initial diagnoses of the disease. Yiannaki highlighted that 92 per cent of individuals living with the HIV virus have been diagnosed, adding that, despite being incurable, early diagnosis and medical management, including antiretroviral treatment, render HIV a chronic, adequately controlled disease.

“Early diagnosis ensure a life expectancy equal to the HIV-negative population. Achieving virological suppression through modern antiretroviral drugs suspends disease transmission and offers us a significant tool to end the epidemic,” she said.

“Additionally, we have the opportunity to permanently end the stigma surrounding people living with HIV and ensure their physical and mental health.”

Yiannaki then confirmed that the health ministry has reconstituted the National AIDS Committee.

“Furthermore, the ministry has addressed the issues faced by HIV-positive individuals, recently revising the prescription of antiretroviral drugs by introducing modern therapeutic regimens,” she concluded.

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