Objective: As HIV/AIDS prevalence rises in Eastern Europe, assessment of local epidemics in the bordering Central European region, especially South Eastern Europe, is vital in order to meet treatment and prevention needs. Understanding current medical and social needs and barriers to care experienced by HIV-positive patients in these regions may provide insight into how to best respond to the local epidemics, increase patients' access to treatment, and reduce loss to follow-up.
Design: This study assesses the patient characteristics, barriers to care, and current medical and social needs of HIV-positive patients in Albania. Semi-structured interviews were used in this cross-sectional study.
Methods: We interviewed 79 of 85 patients (93% response rate) followed at the University Hospital Center of Tirana (UHCT) HIV/AIDS Ambulatory Clinic, which represented the majority of patients under HIV care in Albania during 2009.
Results: The local HIV epidemic seems to be comprised mainly of heterosexual men who have spent an average of 3.6 years abroad. The vast majority of patients under care at UHCT HIV/AIDS Ambulatory Clinic had experienced barriers to care associated with social stigma (97.4%), lack of knowledge of HIV medical care (76.6%), and medical provider's lack of knowledge of HIV (70.9%). Social needs of the patients were also overwhelmingly unmet (90.0-95.7%).
Conclusions: In addressing HIV/AIDS in Albania, it will be crucial to educate the healthcare sector in ways to identify and address barriers to care and current medical and social needs of HIV-positive patients.