The number of HIV-positive people detected in Armenia in the last 5 years has fluctuated about 400 per year on average.
From the perspective of HIV prevalence, Armenia is in a good condition with this indicator, due to the large-scale public awareness initiatives carried out in that direction since 2015. However, the fact that the infected person may not have any symptoms for many years does not rule out that this number is not a real indicator of annual infections.
Nevertheless, Hermine Hovakimyan, head of the outpatient clinic at the National Center for Infectious Diseases, indicates that the level of detection of infection cases in Armenia is improving year by year.
The National Center for Infectious Diseases (formerly the “Republican Center for AIDS Prevention” National Non-Profit Organization) is the only medical facility in the Republic of Armenia that provides medical services to people with HIV. During the interview with “Ampop Media”, the head of the outpatient clinic of the center emphasized the fact that there should be no discriminatory treatment of HIV-positive people․
“People with HIV continue to receive antiretroviral drugs only from our center. After joining Nork Infectious Diseases Clinical Hospital, we also provide outpatient services for patients with Hepatitis B and C but this does not mean that the patients cannot use the services of other medical institutions.”
Based on that logic, people with HIV have been vaccinated wherever they wanted. It is not known what percentage of people in this group are vaccinated․ No statistics has been running.
Hermine Hovakimyan, Head of the center’s outpatient department, who specializes in infectious disease medicine, says that HIV-positive people have been properly informed about the symptoms and ways to prevent COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.
“About a month after the launch of the vaccination process in Armenia, in 2021 when the WHO announced that HIV-positive people can also get vaccinated, we have been explaining the importance of vaccines to them during each visit and urged them to get vaccinated,” said the infectious disease doctor.
“To be honest, the pandemic was of great concern to HIV-positive people from the very beginning. But the only temporary contraindication to the vaccine was prescribed to those who had just started antiretroviral treatment. ”
COVID-19 has overloaded the healthcare system several times, however, Hovakimyan assures that the medical provision of HIV-positive people in Armenia has hardly suffered.
Immune deficiency – a “fertile ground” for the severe course of the coronavirus
According to Hovakimyan, HIV-positive people are infected with COVID-19 in the same way as others․ They may also have pneumonia, other complications, or mild illness.
The statistics of deaths due to COVID-19 show that even a completely healthy person is not insured against the severe course of the disease. The probability of hospitalization simply increases in the case of vulnerable people with health problems.
HIV-positive people are considered vulnerable because their immune systems are affected. That is, their defense system against any virus, bacteria, fungus is vulnerable.
HIV infection may not have any symptoms for many years, it may have a latent course, but a person living with the infection is a transmitter of the disease.
“If symptoms already appear, it means that an immune deficiency is developing. There are situations and diseases that develop against the background of immune deficiency, so in such cases it is necessary for the patient to be examined,” Hermine Hovakimyan, an infectious disease doctor, says.
Prolonged diarrhea, prolonged fever, unexplained fungal infections, recurrent pneumonia, etc., may indicate the existence of the infection. The infection, however, is diagnosed exclusively by laboratory examination.
“There have been cases when a person was diagnosed with HIV while being hospitalized with COVID-19. The doctor had suspicions, examined and found out that the patient also had HIV. But it is not a mandatory examination for those hospitalized with COVID-19. Depending on the patient’s condition, the doctor decides whether there is a need for an HIV test or not,” says Mrs. Hovakimyan.
Clinical situations in which a person must be tested for HIV are clearly defined ․ Among them are sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, etc. The test is also mandatory for all pregnant women.
Hovakimyan says that if the mother with HIV takes all the preventive steps and the child receives the antiviral syrups on time, the probability of transmitting the infection is only 1%.
If the mother has HIV, it is not mandatory to be transmitted to the child. All measures are aimed at giving birth to healthy children from sick mothers. And Armenia is among the countries where it has succeeded.
According to the infectious disease expert, everything possible is being done in Armenia to diagnose the infection in a child as soon as possible.
“All children born to HIV-infected mothers have positive antibodies by 18 months because they receive those antibodies from the mother. This does not mean that the child is infected. Different tests are conducted within the time frame after the baby is born, and the earlier the infection is detected, the easier it is to protect the baby’s immune system from the infection,” said the head of the outpatient clinic at the National Center for Infectious Diseases.
Armenia is one of the countries where the transmission of HIV from mother to child is almost eliminated.
Text by Lilit Poghosyan
Charts by Karine Darbinyan
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