A two-day, 55-nation conference on HIV/AIDS throughout Europe and Central Asia ended yesterday in Ireland, having made more than 30 resolutions intended to tackle inequalities in treatment and prevention between Western Europe and Eastern Europe & Central Asia – the geographic region experiencing the world's fastest HIV infection rate, with 250,000 new infections in 2003, according to UN figures released last week. There could be as many as 1.8 million people living with HIV in the region, an increase from 30,000-40,000 in 1998.
Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, told the conference: "There is no time to waste. Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the fastest-growing AIDS epidemics in the world, with rapid cross-over from high-risk groups into the general population."
Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that the "treatment gap" between those needing and those receiving antiretrovirals in the region was estimated to be at least 100,000.
Consequently, the Dublin Declaration that resulted from the Breaking the Barriers Conference focuses on scaling up prevention work – particularly in women and injecting drug users & their sexual partners – as well as on setting goals for universal access to antiretrovirals, in line with WHO’s 3x5 programme, which aims to get three million people onto anti-HIV therapy by 2005.
Dr Lee Jong-Wook, WHO’s Director-General, told the conference, "Europe cannot divide over the issue of AIDS treatment, and only provide treatment in the richer countries. Treatment should be a right for all, including sex workers and injecting drug users."
The Dublin Declaration has set two major deadlines; 2005 and 2010. Highlights of the 33-point resolution include:
- Provide universal access to safe and effective antiretroviral therapy.
- Provide information, education and life-skills training in HIV prevention for at least 90% of 15-24 year-olds.
- Develop national and regional programmes aimed specifically at HIV prevention for adolescent girls and women.
- Develop national and regional programmes aimed specifically at HIV prevention for all men and women in the armed and civil defence forces.
- Reduce the incidence of mother-to-child transmission to less than 2% throughout Europe and Central Asia.
- Scale-up prevention programmes to cover 80% of people at the highest risk of, and most vulnerable to, HIV/AIDS: this especially includes injecting drug users, who are most affected by the epidemic in the region.
Follow-up conferences are planned biannually, with the next scheduled for 2006.