Portugal’s secretary of state for health, Fernando Araújo, has hailed the “historic day” on which the country has achieved the goals of diagnosing more than 90% of people with HIV and of having more than 90% of those who are in treatment no longer able to transmit the infection
Lisbon – Portugal had set itself the target of 2020 to achieve two of the three objectives set out by the United Nations programme for HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), known as 90-90-90.
“Today is a historic day on which Portugal has achieved two of three” objectives established by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Araújo told Lusa in an interview to mark the release of the latest data on the disease in Portugal.
Once patients are identified, it is easier for health services to get them into treatment, he explained.
Getting 90% of diagnosed patients into treatment is the one objective of the programme that Portugal has not yet achieved, but Araujo said he believes that this could happen by the end of this year.
In 2016, the year for which the latest reliable figures are available, 87% of patients were diagnosed and Araújo recalls that it was precisely in that year that the widespread use of anti-retroviral treatment was introduced for all people with the virus.
“Our expectation is that, possible in 2017 or in 2018 we may certainly attain that 90 and be one of the most advanced countries in this area,” he said.
With the results so far, Portugal is in a small group of European countries with the best results in the fight against Aids, according to the coordinator for WHO’s contagious diseases programme, Masoud Dara, also in an interview with Lusa.
Portugal is seen as a success story, he said, not least because it started the programme with frightening numbers: “We started with an unfavourable base and we have over the years been building suitable responses to attain these objectives”.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Portugal was among the European countries with the largest number of new cases of HIV infections, compared to its population, but that has since been falling year after year.
The peak in HIV infections was associated with an epidemic of drug injections. Portugal’s pioneering policy of decriminalising the use of illicit drugs and possession of small quantities of these, in 2000, after which injecting drug use was handled by the health authorities, is seen as having been a major factor in slashing the rate of new HIV.