New HIV testing initiative after record high cases in eastern Finland

Medical workers offering fast, free and anonymous testing near border crossings with Russia, where infection rates are the highest in the country.

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File picture of HIV and AIDS awareness red ribbon / Credit: iStock

The Finnish Red Cross and Hivpoint organisation are launching a weekend of free, fast and anonymous HIV tests at border crossings with Russia, as the number of cases of HIV infection in South Karelia region hits the highest level in 30 years.

The region in eastern Finland has a population of only around 130,000 people, but it has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country.

“The HIV situation in South Karelia differs from the rest of Finland” says Doctor Pekka Suominen, senior infection specialist from the South Karelia Social and Healthcare District.

“About half of the infected people have been living a long time without knowing they carry the virus, and some have also unknowingly infected their sex partners” he says.

Virus infections abroad

Most of the infections in Finland are contracted overseas, with more than half of Finnish HIV cases contracted in, or brought from, Thailand, Spain, Estonia and Russia.

With South Karelia’s proximity to the border with Russia, a country with much higher HIV infection rates than Finland, it could be one reason for the specific increase in HIV cases there.

Improved testing options

Healthcare professionals are stepping up their efforts to give more people the chance to get tested along the eastern border with Russia.

This weekend they’ll offer free, fast and anonymous tests at Nuijama and Niirala border crossings in special vehicles. The results are available within a few minutes.

Compared to other parts of Finland, the average age of people contracting HIV in the east is also high.

Most often infections are detected in people aged 30 to 34, according to the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL. However in South Karelia it’s much higher.

“In recent years the average age of HIV infected people in the region is up to 60” says Doctor Suominen.

“Today’s HIV medicines are effective and prevent further infections. Treatment is easy, for most people it is enough to take one tablet a day” he explains.