Unity in response is needed to halt diverse HIV epidemics in Europe

This was the main message of the AIDS 2011 Conference, that closed on Friday in Tallinn, Estonia. The event took place on 25-27 May 2011 and gathered over 500 participants from 45 European countries.

The conference was organized under the leadership of the Estonian National Institute for Health Development, together with other national and international stakeholders, including the civil society of people living with HIV.

The call for unity was embedded in the programme of the conference. One of the key sessions gathered important stakeholders from Europe to discuss regional collaboration and coordination, including representatives from governments, civil society, United Nations and European Union agencies. Recognizing the need for unity in action towards achieving universal access to prevention, treatment and care of HIV, discussants focused on current gaps and ways to improve their joint work.

Another topic of the conference - diversity - was addressed in all sessions and presentations. HIV in Europe unequally affects different population groups and different parts of the region. Therefore, participants focused on presenting these challenges and national and regional approaches to respond to them, including: people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, prisoners and people with dual infection with tuberculosis. The conference also made a strong emphasis on the urgent need to scale up the access to HIV testing and counselling, as many people in Europe live without knowing their HIV status and thus miss the important opportunity to access early and lifesaving treatment and care.

Participants also stressed the current low access to antiretroviral therapy in some parts of the Region. This situation becomes even more serious after the recent scientific finding that HIV treatment has an important role in prevention of heterosexual transmission of the virus.

WHO/Europe was actively involved in the preparation of the conference from an early stage, as well as taking an active role in both organizing and participating in scientific committees. The presentations delivered included a plenary talk on the response to HIV in Europe and the European Action Plan for HIV/AIDS 2012-2015, the response to the HIV epidemic in men who have sex with men (MSM) in eastern Europe and central Asia, WHO’s policy framework for HIV testing and counselling in the European Region and the joint initiative on quality improvement in HIV prevention.

WHO/Europe provided an overview of the draft European Action Plan for HIV/AIDS 2012-2015, that will be presented for adoption to the ministers of health of 53 Member States of the European Region in the Regional Committee in September in Baku. The Plan calls for halting and reversing the spread of HIV in the Region by 2015, and achieving universal access to HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.