Europe still not doing enough to tackle HIV/AIDS
by Nessa Childers
The virus affects more than 700,000 people in Europe and an estimated 30 per cent of people with HIV are unaware that they are infected
With advancements in medical care, a degree of complacency has set in as regards to the human immunodeficiency virus – or HIV, as people know it. There is, however, still no cure for acquired immune deficiency syndrome - or AIDS - and it actually remains as a major public health threat in Europe. Today, it affects more than 700,000 people within the European Union and an estimated 30 per cent of people with HIV are unaware that they carry the virus. We saw HIV hit the headlines again, last year, when a singer from German girl band No Angels confessed to having unprotected sex - long after finding out that she had the virus. One of her partners later contracted AIDS.
The EU has been involved in the fight against AIDS, within its borders and in neighbouring countries, since the adoption of its first strategy in 2005. In 2009, those efforts were renewed by the adoption of a strategy for the period running up until 2013. The new strategy concentrates on three key areas: prevention and testing, priority groups most at risk and priority regions. The European Parliament last week called for the full implementation of this strategy. Of particular concern is the high number of people, who are not aware that they are infected. The shocking number is up to one third in the EU and can be up to 70 per cent in neighbouring countries.
In relation to priority groups, a large impact on the epidemic could be achieved if proper assessments are carried out and tailor-made campaigns designed. Depending on the country - it can be men having sex with men, migrants, injecting drug-users or holidaymakers. Strategies need to reach these groups specifically. The importance of bringing HIV/AIDS policies and programmes in line with human rights law is acknowledged but, unfortunately, not often carried through in reality. Policymakers, programme managers and service providers must become more comfortable using human rights norms and standards to guide and limit the actions taken by, or on behalf of, governments - in all matters affecting the response to HIV/AIDS. People living with the virus and those most vulnerable communities should be involved in designing, implementing and evaluating policies and programs. There must be universal access to treatment, prevention and care to all without restriction.
For example, HIV and the behaviours most commonly associated with its transmission can be highly stigmatised. This is a significant barrier to HIV testing and can operate on an individual, structural or institutional level such as in the workplace or in healthcare services. It is important to dispel myths about the groups targeted and about ways in which the virus is transmitted and to promote HIV testing as a normal part of healthcare. Visible and high-level support from opinion formers - including politicians, community leaders and celebrities as well as supportive and accurate coverage in the media can all be also used to raise awareness.
The EU should also provide a policy framework to encourage national governments to address the issue in the context of sexual health strategies and the promotion of sexual health. We need closer links between AIDS care and sexual health care, to reduce unsafe sexual risk-taking behaviours and reduce sexually transmitted infections - including HIV. We need adequate information and sex education, access to protection means - such as male and female condoms – and a strengthening of the rights of women in sexual relationships. Promotion of condom use is, of course, one of the main methods of prevention. The value added tax rates on condoms are still too high in many member states, discouraging use by young people. The hardline stance of the Vatican is inexcusable, despite some recent easing of attitudes by Pope Benedict. Prevention, priority groups and priority regions must remain our focus. The EU will play its part and continue to support efforts to fight HIV/AIDS across Europe – as; unfortunately, it is still very much a 21st century public health threat.
Nessa Childers MEP is spokeswoman for the EU's global response to HIV/AIDS in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament
A phrase like "the hardline stance of the Vatican is inexcusable" may well do for the gutter press, but it does not behove an MEP. Anyone with good knowledge of sub-Saharan Africa epidemic AIDs will be aware that it is the secular experts, who confirm that condom promotion is counterproductive. And who in the developed world is hindered from using condoms by the Catholic Church?
As it happens, there is no ruling by the Church about the use of condoms outside marriage; the moral stance is wholly based on the nature of marriage. And to bad mouth the Vatican without noting the enormous work done through the church and its charities in the distribution of of antirertrovirals is merely demonstrating that they prefer political points to rational assessment.
Ivabradine - UK