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Over the past 24 hours there have been a number of headlines – and media pundits – proclaiming that a recent WHO report found half of the HIV cases in Greece are `self-inflicted’ in order to obtain government benefits. A few examples include:
Greeks self-inject HIV to claim benefits Aljazeera.com
Half of HIV Infections in Greece Are Self-Inflicted Fox Business
Since last night, the story went viral - which is truly unfortunate - since the story apparently is the result of a typo. This morning the World Health Organization issued a statement that clarifies the situation, and explains how this all came about.
In September 2013, the WHO Regional Office for Europe published a report “Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region” which was prepared by the Institute of Equity, University College London, United Kingdom. In this report, an erroneous reference is made to: “HIV rates and heroin use have risen significantly, with about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of €700 per month and faster admission on to drug substitution programmes.”
The sentence should read: "half of the new HIV cases are self-injecting and out of them few are deliberately inflicting the virus".
The statement is the consequence of an error in the editing of the document, for which WHO apologizes.
The source for the statement is a correspondence published in the Lancet by Alexander Kentikelenis and colleagues in September 2011. In this article, Kentikelenis mentions “accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes.”, based on the report of the “Ad hoc expert group of the Greek focal point on the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in 2011” (Greek Documentation and Monitoring Centre for Drug, 2011).
Greece has reported a significant, 52% increase of new HIV infection in 2011 compared to the 2010, largely driven by infections among people who inject drugs in recent years. The reasons for this increase remain multifaceted and WHO welcomes efforts of the ad hoc working group and other entities to fully understand the underlying reasons and recommend appropriate measures to extend the benefits of the comprehensive package of interventions for harm reduction to all people who inject drugs.
Kentikelenis A et al. Health effects of financial crisis: omens of a Greek tragedy. Lancet, 2011, 378(9801):1457−1458.
Paraskevis D, Hatzakis A. An ongoing HIV outbreak among intravenous drug users in Greece: preliminary summary of surveillance and molecular epidemiology data. EMCDDA Early Warning System, 2011.
Dimitrios Paraskevis, Economic Recession and Emergence of an HIV-1, Outbreak among Drug Injectors in Athens Metropolitan, Area: A Longitudinal Study, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078941.g005
WHO: Technical guide for countries to set targets for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for injecting drug users, 2012 revision