Startling new figures reveal that Estonia has the highest rate of new HIV diagnosis in Europe.

According to the data, 504 new cases were reported per million inhabitants in 2006 compared to the average rate of new diagnosis across Europe of 111 per million inhabitants.

Countries in the European Union have a lower average rate of 67 per million inhabitants.

The statistics were released by Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), during a visit to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

She praised the country’s political commitment to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“In response to the high levels of HIV infection being reported, Estonia has launched an ambitious long-term plan for 2006-2015,” she said.

“The plan includes new initiatives on surveillance, prevention and treatment.

“We at ECDC are supportive of the work being done by the Estonian government to reverse the trend of increasing HIV infection rates.

“On behalf of the ECDC, I have pledged to support Estonia in a number of priority areas, including on surveillance, sharing country experiences and providing European guidance on HIV testing.”

On a visit to Estonia earlier this year, a team of ECDC experts stressed the need for continued action.

The EuroHIV figures also revealed that 86,912 new HIV infections were reported across 50 of the 53 countries of the World Health Organisation European Region in 2006, with 26,220 (30%) of those cases reported in EU countries.

The statistics showed that over two thirds of new HIV diagnoses in Europe were reported in the former Soviet Union countries, 41 per cent from females and 27 per cent from young people aged 15-24.

The principal cause of HIV transmission was from intravenous drug use, although the number of heterosexually-transmitted cases had increased five-fold since 1999.

In Western Europe, 35 per cent of the cases reported were female and 10 percent from those aged 15-24 years old.

The principal cause of transmission was heterosexual, with an estimated 43 per cent of cases originating from countries where the epidemic is widespread, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 1999, the number of new HIV diagnoses reported in Western Europe both among heterosexuals and homosexuals has doubled.

The ECDC estimates that approximately 30 per cent of those infected with HIV in Europe are unaware that they have the virus.

Tackling this “hidden” epidemic is a major concern for ECDC which hopes to promote higher testing rates across Europe so that those infected with the virus will have access to prevention and treatment services.