Governments urged by UN to take action against HIV/AIDS in Europe

16 September 2004

Alarmed by the rise of HIV/AIDS infection rates in Europe and Central Asia, two United Nations agencies today urged governments in the region to take practical actions to protect their populations from the epidemic.

"Countries of the newly enlarged European Union (EU) now have a prime opportunity to convert their commitment into concrete actions and programmes against AIDS," said Jack Chow, a senior official of the World Health Organization (WHO), shortly before the start of the European Ministerial Conference on AIDS in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The two-day conference, entitled "Europe and HIV/AIDS: "New Challenges, New Opportunities," is being hosted by the European Union and the Lithuanian Government.

For its part, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said more European cooperation and investment is needed in the region. "We would like to support the European Union for their renewed efforts to fight AIDS in Europe, particularly its commitment to assist the most-affected countries in its neighbourhood," Henning Mikkelsen, UNAID's Regional Coordinator, told a news conference in Vilnius.

WHO officials say nearly two million people in the region were already living with HIV/AIDS, adding that the epidemic poses a serious threat to the lives of thousands of people.

WHO studies show that deaths from AIDS have declined in Western Europe, but infection rates continue to rise, mainly because of the lack of prevention efforts by governments in the region.

With the highest infection rate in Eastern Europe, the epidemic continues to spread unchecked in Estonia, Latvia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

The number of people living with HIV in Western Europe increased to 580,000 in 2003 from 540,000 in 2001.

"Given that 80 per cent of those infected in Eastern Europe are young people, there is an urgent need for a massive and comprehensive response to reduce the vulnerability of young people and empower them to become active partners in the fight against AIDS," said Lars O. Kallings, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe. "If no action is taken, we will be faced with a larger AIDS epidemic that risks crippling the region's social and economic development and undermining national security."

Stressing the need to launch "targeted awareness-raising campaigns," Mr. Kallings said since HIV transmission in Eastern Europe was mainly driven by the use of drug injections, information, counselling and treatment should be readily made available to drug users to reduce the risk of HIV.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, about 120,000 people need antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, but currently only 15,000 are able to receive this treatment.


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