New research gives impetus to WHO plan to halt HIV spread

53 countries to commit to accelerated action on HIV, as rates triple in 10 years in eastern Europe and central Asia

Baku, 14 September 2011

At the sixty-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, being held in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 12 to 15 September 2011, the WHO Regional Office for Europe will present an action plan to Member States to halt the increasing spread of HIV in the WHO European Region.

“The European Action Plan for HIV/AIDS 2012–2015 is at the very cusp of knowledge and good practice,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, “but the success of the Plan as a response to this growing epidemic will depend on countries’ willingness to fully implement the evidence-informed interventions for key populations that are still not in place in some countries, and to respect equity and human rights.”

Breakthrough research published in July 2011 showed that the sexual transmission of HIV can be reduced by 96% through earlier treatment of people with the virus – known as “treatment as prevention” – and by 73% through antiretroviral treatment of partners who do not have the virus. These scientifically confirmed preventive effects of antiretroviral therapy now give increased impetus to the urgent scaling-up of access to antiretroviral medication. Treatment coverage in some parts of the European Region has, until now, been among the worst in the world. Whereas many countries, especially in the western part of the Region, have among the best treatment coverage rates in the world, in 2009 only an estimated 19% of adults in need were receiving lifesaving medication in the low- and middle-income countries in the eastern part of the Region. Scaling-up treatment access will not only save people’s lives but also prevent new infections and decrease the burden of HIV in European countries.

The eastern part of the European Region also has the most rapidly growing HIV epidemic in the world. It is rising at an alarming rate. Globally the number of people newly infected with HIV is decreasing, but in eastern Europe and central Asia the number of people estimated to be living with HIV has tripled since 2000, while the total number of reported cases has increased almost sixfold. In 2009 an estimated 2.2 million people in the European Region were living with HIV, of whom 1.4 million were in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Of the many reasons for the increasing rates, most are associated with the fact that people who are most at risk of HIV, through engaging in unprotected sex or sharing drug-injecting equipment, are those who are socially excluded or considered to be on the edge of society and whose rights are restricted or violated. These groups include men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and their sexual partners, people in prison, sex workers and migrants.

The priority must be to stop new HIV infections and improve access to HIV services for these groups. The Action Plan confirms the commitments countries made at the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS in June 2011, as reflected in the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. These include efforts towards reducing sexual transmission of HIV and transmission of HIV among people who inject drugs by 50%, making progress in eliminating new HIV infections among children in the next five years, increasing the number of people receiving life-saving antiretroviral treatment and reducing tuberculosis-related deaths by half in people living with HIV by 2015. With the fiscal constraints facing many countries in the European Region, it is imperative that available resources are invested appropriately in evidence-informed and cost-effective programmes.

About the Action Plan

The Action Plan calls for accelerated action, stronger political commitment, increased investment and a comprehensive response, with strong partnerships as the basis for successful implementation. It includes objectives, indicators and targets on prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, working broadly across related health programmes, building strong systems and reducing social barriers. It was developed with a broad array of stakeholders involved in the HIV response in Europe, including country representatives, civil society, experts and partners. Special attention was given to the meaningful involvement of people living with HIV and other elements of civil society in shaping the priorities, a principle that guides the Action Plan.

“We, as HIV civil society organizations, appreciate the process that shaped the European Action Plan for HIV/AIDS, for its openness and inclusion of people living with HIV. The Plan derives from the strong need and commitment of the stakeholders to address the HIV epidemic in the Region and as a document it deals extensively with the needs of key populations affected by HIV,” said Anna Zakowicz, the Chair of the European AIDS Treatment Group and the Co-Chair of the Global Network of People Living with HIV, “but it is only through political leadership and action at the national and European level that we can take the document a step further, to translate it from words into a steady process to achieve the bold goals and targets that we set for ourselves.”

The Action Plan supports the implementation of the global strategies on HIV/AIDS both of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and of WHO.

For further information, please contact:

Martin Donoghoe
Programme Manager, HIV/AIDS, STIs and Viral Hepatitis
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 07
Mobile: + 45 29 60 91 86

Viv Taylor Gee
Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 31
Mobile: +45 2272 3691