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21 July, 2024
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HIV patients denied care, forced to halt medication

Two doctors for 1200 HIV patients in Cyprus

Ioanna Kyriakou

In 2023, although HIV is no longer contagious, HIV-positive patients in Cyprus continue to face marginalization and social exclusion when taking medication.

According to testimony before the Human Rights Committee in Parliament, doctors in Cyprus refuse to treat and operate on HIV/AIDS patients. Only 48% of HIV-positive people report having a good quality of life. This situation is described as a "massive failure" by Georgios Siakallis, the head of the Grigorios clinic housed in the Larnaca General Hospital—the only clinic in Cyprus within GSY that operates for HIV-positive patients.

There is progress but…

In his statement, Mr. Siakallis referred to the commitment to achieve the revised targets set by the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS, with a time horizon for implementation in 2030. In this context, 95% of people living with the virus know their diagnosis, and 95% have access to and receive antiretroviral treatment.

Among those treated, 95% achieve virological suppression. In Cyprus, to date, 92% of people living with the virus have been diagnosed, 94% have access to medication, and 97% achieve virological suppression. However, 2023 is expected to end with a 20% reduction in new diagnoses, a positive development.

Still, only 48% of HIV-positive people in Cyprus report having a good quality of life, a result of the daily social exclusion they experience. This leads some patients to withdraw from their medication, incurring social, medical, and epidemiological costs, among other things. Members expressed the view that social stigma also undermines the progress of other objectives.

Two doctors for 1200 patients

An issue also arises with the understaffing of the Grigoriou clinic, as only an infectious disease specialist and a pathologist are responsible for monitoring all patients. According to Mr. Siakalli, to date, 2659 diagnoses have been made, while the number of people requiring continuous follow-up amounts to 1200. He stressed that hiring a third doctor was necessary, while non-governmental organizations asked for an immediate timetable.

Expanding drug prescribing

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said that a series of meetings with competent bodies has begun, always taking into account the instructions of the Grigoriou clinic, to resolve the chronic issues that concern patients. In particular, it was decided to expand drug co-registration quarterly, instead of two months previously.

The aim is for this decision to be implemented in a pilot phase within the next six months. At the same time, it was decided to review antiretroviral drugs. The Ministry stressed that some practical difficulties remain, such as the absence of digitization and the inability of pharmacists to communicate with the Grigorios clinic, resulting in patients being able to receive their medicines only from the Larnaca General Hospital.

On his part, a spokesman for Okypy said that the issue that arises is that so far no way has been found to compensate the non-beneficiaries of Gesy. However, he added, at a last meeting with the OSH it was concluded that they would be covered through services of general economic interest.

Complaints about doctors refusing care

Regarding complaints about healthcare professionals refusing to treat HIV/AIDS patients, the Okypy spokesperson said that for the organization HIV has never been an obstacle to providing medical assistance and that it would be surprising if this incident happened in a public hospital.

A spokesman for the Commissioner of supervision Gesy said there is a huge issue as there is a conflict of two articles in the legislation relating to medical ethics that can form the basis for some medical service providers to refuse medical treatment. He stressed that clarification should be made on what they are providing and in what cases there may be refusal to provide medical care so that health professionals are aware of their legal obligations.

It didn't break the stigma

Ms. Stella Michaelidou, president of KYFAS, in her statement stressed that the stigma has not been broken and that patients are afraid to tell work and their doctors that they are HIV positive. It is very important, he clarified, to focus on enlightenment campaigns and psychological support for patients. A punch in the stomach was the reference Ms Michaelidou made to a dear friend. "He died at the age of 52 because he couldn't stand rejection.

He had applied to retire because he could not work. He couldn't see out of one eye, he had platinum in his hands. He went to the Medical Council, he went to the Supreme Court and when he was rejected he stopped taking his medication because he felt there was no point." At the same time, Ms. Michaelidou pointed out that the monthly allowance of 350 euros that patients receive should be increased, that the Grigorios clinic needs immediate renovation and that there is no computerization. Finally, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour said that of the 10,000 unemployed, only one declared HIV positive.

Cyprus  |  aids  |  health  |  hospital  |  hiv

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