WHO calls for urgent action to accelerate HIV response in eastern Europe and central Asia

WHO/James Hammond

Getting tested is the first step towards becoming aware of HIV status. Early diagnosis is important because it allows people to start HIV treatment earlier, which in turn increases health benefits and prevents onward HIV transmission.

Ministers of health and senior policy-makers from 10 countries in eastern Europe and central Asia (EECA) gathered for a ministerial policy dialogue on HIV and related comorbidities to revamp political commitment to fight HIV and scale up the HIV response.

The policy dialogue, organized by WHO in cooperation with the Government of the Netherlands and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), took place on 23 July 2018 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, just prior to the opening of the 22nd International AIDS Conference. It put the spotlight on the WHO European Region as a global community of experts, policy-makers and people affected by HIV gathered to discuss progress and pave the way for future action.

Need to reverse the HIV epidemic in the Region

The WHO European Region is the only WHO region where new HIV infections are increasing, with a persisting trend. In 2016, more than 160 000 new HIV infections were diagnosed, nearly 80% of them in countries of EECA. As of 2017, about one fifth of all people living with HIV in the Region are unaware of their infection, including one quarter in EECA, and half of those aware are diagnosed late. This results in delayed treatment, an excess of AIDS-related morbidity and mortality, and feeds into ongoing virus transmission.

“The time to accelerate our efforts is now. We have done much; we have not done it all. When there are evidence-based approaches to revert the course of the HIV epidemic in our Region, we cannot afford doing ‘business as usual’,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, in her opening speech.

“We need urgent collective action in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other global and regional policy frameworks. We will not be able to attain the Sustainable Development Goals if we do not manage to reverse the incidence of HIV and curb its epidemic,” she continued.

Priorities to scale up action in EECA

Together with representatives from international and nongovernmental organizations, ministers of health and senior policy-makers exchanged experiences of innovative and evidence-based HIV responses that are effective, efficient and financially sustainable, with a view to adapt and scale them up across the Region. Examples ranged from the introduction of integrated, people-centred models of HIV services, to innovative and inclusive HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care, to the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

As a result of the dialogue, participants identified priorities for action to accelerate the HIV response in countries of EECA, such as strengthening collaboration across sectors and working in partnerships with civil society and people living with HIV. These are especially relevant, as social and economic determinants play a major role in the ongoing HIV epidemic. Priority actions also include the effective use of domestic funding and a focus on the most affected populations.

A new WHO resource to strengthen the HIV response

Following the dialogue, WHO/Europe launched the “Compendium of good practices in the health sector response to HIV in the WHO European Region.” It features 52 successful examples from 32 countries in the Region, categorized according to the 5 priority areas of the Action plan for the health sector response to HIV in the WHO European Region:

  • HIV prevention;
  • HIV testing and treatment;
  • reduction of AIDS-related deaths;
  • reduction of discrimination; and
  • increased financial sustainability of the HIV response.

“To accelerate progress in the WHO European Region towards ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, we trust that Member States and partners will use this compendium as a unique resource to sustain, replicate and scale up these and other similar good practices,” affirmed Dr Masoud Dara, Coordinator for Communicable Diseases at WHO/Europe.

The Action plan for the health sector response to HIV in the WHO European Region supports the Region in achieving the global goal to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, and provides a roadmap to reverse the HIV epidemic in the Region through fast-tracked actions.

These actions include people-centred health-care models, sustainable financing models and partnerships – including with civil society. Last but not least, a focus on ensuring equity and human rights helps to counteract stigma and makes it easier for people living with HIV to seek treatment and care.

In collaboration with country offices, WHO/Europe has been providing HIV technical assistance and guidance towards reaching targets in the Action plan’s 5 priority areas, and tailored support to low- and middle-income countries.